Walt Kelly made his famous statement about the enemy through his cartoon character, Pogo Possum in 1970. It called attention to environmental concerns of Earth Day. It paraphrased Oliver Hazard Perry’s message about the battle of Lake Erie in 1813, “We have met the Enemy and they are Ours.” Today it is probably as well known as Perry’s famous quote.
The quote came to my mind this week as I read from “The Lucifer Effect” and other writings and lectures of Dr Philip Zimbardo, creator of the famous Stanford University Prison Experiment.
The findings of Dr Zimbardo are of such a breakthrough nature that they generate feelings of both fear and awe. They generate fear because they force us to recognize the potential for evil and wrongdoing present, (and not even that far beneath the surface) in each and every one of us.
The Stanford experiment demonstrated this when a group of well educated college students within literally a matter of hours, degenerated into roles of cruel oppressive jailers and masochistic prisoner victims. The effects were so terrible that Christina Maslach, then a student herself, was appalled and demanded that the experiment be stopped. The experiment was only six days in to a projected two week period.
Because it was so short lived, the experiment might have been thought a failure but it was in this that it succeeded. The findings were just too terrible. But the findings were true.
Zimbardo’s work is some of the most important in our world today. If we are ever to understand problems in oppressive government, wrongs in the work place and schools, and in the ongoing examples of domestic abuse we read about, and that we often don’t read about because they have gone unrecognized.
In his work, “The Lucifer Effect,” he ends on a very positive note. He describes examples of the “Heroic Imagination” that inner force for good that can cause any of us to act heroically when faced with what we know to be a great wrong. It is his hope that cultivating this part of us may offset much of our negative leanings. We can learn to think more about how we think. As we recognize the impulses in our lives to both evil and good behavior we can move toward the positive. I encourage everyone to look up Dr Zimbardo’s works and consider his dramatic message.
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