The line of good and evil is down the middle of every person's heart. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, imprisoned Russian writer
John and I plan to travel to Israel in the next few weeks. At least that was the plan.
Now we’re reading accounts of Hamas terrorism and Israeli counteroffensives with extremely grave concern…and despair. It’s not just about the potential interruption of our travel. It’s the absence of hope. It’s the turning of the gut as we witness the hideous violence people unleash on others.
Reading stories of Hamas killing hundreds of young people, triumphantly parading their nude bodies through the streets, it’s hard for me to think of these creatures as human beings. They must belong to a unique species of evil.
This is where I go wrong according to researchers. Every one of us is capable of evil. That’s what people like psychologist, Dr. Phillip Zimbardo, want us to understand.
Evil, the intentional harm of others, is easy to get people to do, even psychologically healthy people. Zimbardo points to his own Stanford experiments in which regular ole college students became sadists within three days. Then, he points to the experiments done by Stanley Milgram. Using simple psychological processes like group pressure and authority, ninety percent of the participants were willing to give what they thought were lethal electrical charges to others.
If we want to be less savage, Zimbardo says we must get this about ourselves. All of us. We must understand just how easily we are influenced to be evil. He’s written a book called The Lucifer Effect with the details.
Zimbardo, however, has also written about ways we can learn to resist evil. And I’ve met people who were able to resist evil. Zimbardo calls them positive deviants. They are folks who can stay true to their values no matter what everyone else is doing. Zimbardo gives seemingly nutty ways of becoming a positive deviant. Paint a black square on your head and wear it around all day for example.
People who are positive deviants often demonstrate concern for others. Zimbardo says they have moved from being ego-centric to being socio-centric…from a focus on me, to a focus on we. The “we” continually expands to include everyone.
Zimbardo gives an easy way to move toward socio-centrism. Just pay five sincere compliments to five people for five days. Especially pay attention to those outside our regular circle. Even these very small acts of kindness can naturally lead us into focusing more on others and doing the right thing.
And, today, what is holding me together… besides thinking of what I can do to counteract evil in myself, is a story. A true story. One from 1978.
President Jimmy Carter had arranged a summit in which he brought the prime minister of Israel, Menachem Begin, and the president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, to Camp David.
Carter deeply desired a peace deal between the two countries, but the odds seemed remote. Egypt wanted Israel to return land and political prisoners. Israel was opposed to the idea.
Israel wanted Egypt to promise a permanent truce. Egypt seemed unwilling. Negotiations were going badly.
Prime Minister Begin packed up. However, Carter caught him at the elevator.
Carter had a folder containing nine photographs. The photos captured the three of them – Carter, Begin, Sadat together at the summit.
Carter handed the photos to Begin. He explained that they were mementos for his nine grandchildren. In fact, Carter had inscribed the name of one of Begin’s grandchildren on the back of each picture.
Begin looked at the photos …saying nothing for a while. Then Carter noticed that his eyes had tears. Begin read aloud the names of each of his grandchildren and said, “There must be a way. There is a way. For our children, for the next generation.”
Begin returned to negotiations. By the end of the week, Begin and Sadat shook hands and solidified the Camp David Accords.
And that’s the mantra, the resolve, the love, I’m going to hold on to no matter what I read in the news today... and these coming weeks... and perhaps even for my lifetime… “There must be a way. There is a way. For our children, for the next generation.”
How might we journey together to the Good Life by resisting evil and always believing there must be a way?