Tuesday, January 12, 2010
I had the experience of seeing how my thoughts work. I view so much through the filter of my bad day...through the filter of having been hurt. It is eye opening. And disturbing. Distressing really.
I have been watching lectures of interest on the web. One of the lectures was Phillip Zimbardo, speaking about cruelty, evil and Abu Graib. When I see the photos I weep. Without fail.
A very small part of the lecture referenced an experiment Zimbardo conducted at Stanford in 1971. I do not know if his intent was to evaluate the correlative/causal relationship between power and cruelty or evil. But the conclusion was evident.
His experiment created a prison situation. College students were the subjects. One group was tagged as prisoners; a second group as guards. They had been peers...undergraduate, middle class college students. The experiment was slated to last two weeks.
The behavior of the students got so out of hand, the experiment had to be stopped after six days. The students who had become the guards demonstrated cruel, abusive behavior toward the students who were the prisoners. The experiment cycled so far out of control that the students who were prisoners were psychologically harmed.
Zimbardo referenced another often cited experiment done by Stanley Milgram at Yale. In Milgram's experiment, the subjects were told they were there to help the person they thought was really the subject to learn. They were instructed to provide a jolt of electricity when the subject did not correctly identify something that was to be memorized. Each time an error was made, the jolt would increase. On the panel was a warning that if the shock went beyond, serious harm could occur.
The 'learner' in another room whimpered and even yelled as the intensity of the shock increased.
The subjects of the experiment were really the 'teachers' and not the learners. The study was really about whether they would do what they were instructed by an authority figure (white coated experiment director) no matter the cost to another.
Astonishingly, most were willing to administer shocks beyond the 'safe' zone and many were willing to administer the maximum jolt.
Both experiments demonstrate that good people are capable of doing bad, very bad, even evil things.
As it happens Zimbardo and Milgram were high school classmates in the Bronx, part of the New York City public school system. They graduated together in 1950.
Quite a coincidence -- two high school classmates independently doing some of the most often cited experiments in cruelty and evil.
Now here is where my filter slides in:
The lecture was interesting. The experiments were interesting. And I was learning something I did not know.
And then I heard the name of the high school. And everything stopped. I could not hold anything I heard after that. The fellow who hurt me attended the same high school several years later.
Also a coincidence, yes. But my flawed, faulty, filtered thinking took over. I began to look for messages in it...lessons I was supposed to learn. Then my thoughts spun out of control and I began to wonder if the universe was speaking to me...admonishing me not to let thoughts about him get too far.
I know this is not productive. Though not dangerous, it is damaging.
And right now, I am at a loss for how to get hold of it. I do not know how to make it stop.
It has been a long time since I have posted. Maybe writing again will help me get hold of it. And if I am lucky, it will help me learn from it and maybe even grow.