For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so – Hamlet, William Shakespeare
It’s a murder that has caught the nation’s attention like never before. A woman supposedly murdered her daughter whom she bandied about as her sister. How can a woman, a mother kill her own daughter? Yes she was ambitious, nothing wrong with that. That she was more ambitious than others with an inclination to be rich and powerful overnight does not support or indicate a murderous trait. A trait that is so heinous that drives her to kill her own daughter for money, power or to suppress daughter’s freedom is unpalatable to us. A word and prayer about the victim. A young life nipped in the bud for faults unknown and may never be known. RIP Sheena Bora.
Everyday incidents of road rage, honour killings and crimes of passion, catch the headlines. As we read the details we wonder with a sense of superior morality, “how can somebody do this? Are they not human beings?” The question that needs to be asked is, “are the perpetrators of this crime different from us, the normal standard human beings?” Society is not a laboratory nor are we lab animals to experiment and test for standards and traits of good and evil.
Wait. Such an experiment has been undertaken. In 1971, Stanford Prison Experiment was conducted by Philip Zimbardo, a psychology professor of Stanford University. The experiment and the results both were shocking.
A group of volunteers and students of psychology school of Stanford created a prison in the university’s dormitory. Randomly chosen, some ended up being the prison guards and some the prisoners. Participants adapted to their roles of guards and prisoners beyond the professors expectations. Guards quickly turned authoritarian and prisoners turned submissive or rebellious. Such were the excesses of the guards and such was the effect on the prisoners, that the experiment was called to a halt within six days against the planned fourteen days.
Guards and prisoners were given their roles by chance and not choice but their behaviour reflected otherwise. Psychology students of a marquee university were behaving like a Nazi camp in-charge. Normal good human beings turned into dictators and suppressors -knowing that it is just an experiment- in just a day! Is there a fascist, a Satan in every one of us?
As per Old Testament Lucifer, Michael and Gabriel were the three Archangels of God, each vested with a responsibility. Lucifer was head of the angels of worship of God and slowly believed that some of the worship should come to him as well. God cast him from heaven to hell where he resides by the name of Satan. If an archangel appointed by the God himself could not carry the strappings of power with grace, what about us, the mortals?
We judge in extremities. Murderers, terrorists, rapists, thieves, corporate swindlers are some of the buckets into which we have categorised and dumped those who have deviated from the norm. True, but they are the exceptions, the outliers. There is another person who is as vicious and potentially dangerous as those above. You know him. Its you.
None of the terrorists or dictators were born that way. In fact most of them were loving family members. Their failures shock not just the public but also their near and dear ones. What fails us? Power, authority and money are the three ingredients which turn the good in us towards the bad. We misuse power bestowed in us forgetting the responsibility that comes with it. For money we sell our soul and transgress borders of integrity. Authority is more complicated.
As employees we need to work, act and behave in a certain way for the growth and success of the organisation. Norms of business and rules of work are the guiding force. These are humanised into an individual – supervisor or the boss. Following the instruction of your boss (which in turn is that of the firm) is the expected norm. When you are confronted with a situation where you believe the firm is being compromised by the boss or even worse, the firm is compromising the customers’ or the society’s interest, what should you choose – obeying the authority or being a renegade, a whistle blower? Sometimes, the violations are very minor – an inflated expense bill, misuse of office equipment, ill-treatment of colleagues and you etc. What should you do?
It depends on your moral compass. Higher and better the settings, faster will be your disconnect with such individuals and firms. You will one up in moral status but few down in success ladder and money. What you want to give, to be what in your life, is what makes you what you are.
Dr.APJ Kalam or Indrani Mukherjea. Both are within you. What you choose to be, is your choice.
PS: Read Philip Zimbardo’s “The Lucifer Effect” about this experiment (SPE) and also to understand psychology of power.