Quotes from The Lucifer Effect

“Instead, I wondered what circumstances in that prison cell block could have tipped the balance and led even good soldiers to do such bad things. To be sure, advancing a situational analysis for such crimes does not excuse them or make them morally acceptable. Rather, I needed to find the meaning in this madness. I wanted to understand how it was possible for the characters of these young people to be so transformed in such a short time that they would do these unthinkable deeds.”

“The primary simple lesson the Stanford Prison Experiment teaches is that situations matter. Social situations can have more profound effects on the behavior and mental functioning of individuals, groups, and national leaders than we might believe possible. Some situations can exert such powerful influence over us that we can be led to behave in ways we would not, could not, predict was possible in advance.”

“When all members of a group of individuals are in a deindividuated state, their mental functioning changes: they live in an expanded-present moment that makes past and future distant and irrelevant. Feelings dominate reason, and action dominates reflection.”

“The need to be accepted, liked and respected – to seem normal and appropriate, to fit in – is so powerful that we are primed to conform to even the most foolish and outlandish behaviors that strangers tell us is the right way to act.”

“This is why evil is so pervasive. Its temptation is just a small turn away, a slight detour on the path of life, a blur in our side-view mirror, leading to disaster.”

“Maybe each of us has the capacity to be a saint or a sinner, altruistic or selfish, gentle or cruel, dominant or submissive, perpetrator or victim, prisoner or guard. Maybe it is our social circumstances that determine which of our many mental templates, our potentials, we develop.”

“Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.” -Haile Selassie, former emperor of Ethiopia

“A common theme in the accounts of European Christians who helped the Jews during the Holocaust could be summed up as the ‘banality of goodness.’ What is striking over and over again is the number of these rescuers who did the right thing without considering themselves heroic, who acted merely out of a sense of common decency. The ordinariness of their goodness is especially striking in the contest of the incredible evil of the systematic genocide by Nazis on a scale the world had never before experienced.”

“And so, the parting message that we might derive from our long journey into the heart of darkness and back again is that heroic acts and the people who engage in them should be celebrated. They form essential links among us; they forge our Human Connection. The evil that persists in our midst must be countered, and eventually overcome, by the greater good in the collective hearts and personal heroic resolve of Everyman and Everywoman.”

*All quotes are from The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Philip Zimbardo


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