Deliver Us From Evil

There’s a question that’s been floating around my brain for quite some time, and that is, can we create “good humans” without religion’s fear of a haunting afterlife or using a penal system to punish “bad” behavior by locking people away.  As an educator who pines for a more peaceful and equitable world, you might understand why I ask such a question as I do believe that I can make a positive impact on a human life.

During my high school psychology class, I remember learning about an experiment in which a social scientist, Stanley Milgram asked if the Holocaust could happen again.  In his experiment subjects played a role of the “teacher”, and they were told that the student was about improving memory. If the “student” could not remember something, they were to apply increasing amounts of electric shock to the finger. They could go all the way up to 4blindobediance50 V, and not surprisingly, “students” pleaded and cried to have the shocks stop, fearing that it might be fatal. At which time, the “teachers” were reminded by someone in a lab coat (not a real doctor or professor) that they have a job to perform and this shock treatment was for the “students” own good. With this reminder, the “teachers” continued to provide shocks to the “students”.  This experiment involved over 1000 participants and demonstrated the idea of “blind obedience”, in which people can be easily coaxed into mean and corruptible acts when they believe that the person giving the directive is a respected authority. This same experiment inspired other experiments that explored good people doing bad things; in particular, the most controversial and telling one by Dr. Phil Zimbarbo, who created a  prison simulation whose good kids were turned “evil” by the social situation in which they found themselves. (The experiment was supposed to go for 2 weeks but had to be stopped after 5 days due to the sadistic acts done by the “prison guards” to these mock prisoners.) Ironically, the images of Abu Ghraib in Iraq were eerily similar to the cruelty exhibited by these prison guards done in his experiment. When he was interviewed about the shocking similarities, Dr. Zimbardo came in defense of the soldiers who took on these roles because it was the expectation of the authorities above them:

Most American soliders are good apples and what we have to realize that someone put them in a bad barrel and we have to know who are the “bad” barrel makers are. And this becomes the metaphor: bad apples, what is wrong with the individual vs. bad barrels, which is situational analysis; and of course the system is the bad barrel makers, the people who make those situations and sustain them.

-Dr. Phil Lombardo-

He calls the impetus to do bad the Lucifer Effect, which if you want to know more about, you can watch his TED talk below. It’s fascinating and uncomfortable to learn about.

I postulate that this is true for all people, whether we analyze slavery, Nazis in WW2, gang violence, the genocide in Rwanda, Columbine shootings or the more recent terror attacks done by the Taliban and ISIS.  I think this is the same reason why American police officers have such a bad reputation and why the Black Lives Matter campaign began to humanize people of color so that people of authority can start to see their humanity and stop stereotyping them as criminals.  Never the less, all these people started off as “good apples” who got sucked into a system in which the lure of evil seduced them and they began to follow the orders of people they see as superiors.

 

Christians around the world say “lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil.” And the point is that evil comes in many sizes and many shapes. There is the evil of action, doing bad things, but there is also the evil of inaction, not doing the right thing when you could.  This is the bystander effect. …People around the world do not come to aid of someone in an emergancy who needs their help. It’s so easy to cross the line…..but what about those people who resist the temptation and  power of the group, especially when everyone in the group is doing it. I began to think of them as everyday heros.

-Dr. Phil Zimbardo

 

That’s an interesting perspective and definition of “heroes”-the people who question authority and the system that allows for the dehumanization of people. As someone who was raised with Christianity, I always found Jesus to be a social deviant, caring for lepers and befriending prostitutes. He was an extraordinary and courageous man because he challenged the cultural structures of his time–and you know what that got him?-crucified!   It’s challenging to go against authority but in one of the scriptures,  Jesus tells his apostles that they can do what he does and more, encouraging them to stick their necks out for the greater good.

Dr. Zimbardo explains that small acts of evil can become an unconscious habit of compliance in our system and are compounded unless we make a conscious effort. In Confuciusism, there is a saying that “the small man thinks that small acts of goodness are of no benefit and does not do them; and that small deeds of evil do no harm, and does not refrain from them; hence wickedness becomes so great that it cannot be concealed.”  Dehumanism is the first symptom of going down that slippery slope of evil and happens easily when we begin to label people—perhaps you recognize these some of these labels:

Mexicans, terrorists, Muslims, Christians, immigrants, blacks, women, men, Republicans, Democrats, Communists, Politicians, WASPs, Jews, Kooks, Asians, Blonds etc…

helpers

I agree with Fred Rogers, it’s vital to shift our focus toward the people who are helping others. And hopefully, those people are us. Maybe we can stand up or our children who stand up and make a difference.

These are easy to spot and quite obvious, especially when one turns on the news, as it shamelessly glorifies violence and hatred as a form of entertainment.

However, the antidote to evil is to begin to look at others as humans–people who share the same life struggles as we all do–then it is simple to do more good towards one another. It’s easier to stop and give that “bum” (a common label in society for people who are poor and homeless) a dollar when you act with compassion toward a person, knowing that ANY of us could be in that situation and connect with the thread that binds us all. Currently, the research shows that only 10% of people globally practice “mindful disobedience“–Zimbardo’s term for heroism–these are the whistleblowers and the everyday individuals who take extraordinary actions that defy the norms of the system they find themselves in. Not many people choose to challenge authority because of the negative consequences that they may encounter as a result of their action. For example, the Private who disclosed the abuse at Abu Ghraib had to hide him and his family for 3 years due to the death threats and emotional suffering that he encountered. Not everyone can go into exile like that, which is why so many people shy away from such acts of heroism.

But I do think we can do something about that 10%. 

The first step begins with us as individuals. Awareness and reflecting on our actions and words–are we participating either actively or passively in dehumanizing others, demonstrating agreement with exerting power over individuals that deny them dignity and compassion? C’mon–there’s a 90% chance that we are. Look hard enough and you can find ways that you are contributing to hatred and evil in the world.  Goodness knows that I’m searching my conscious and definitely find ways in which I could improve and be a kinder and more involved human.

And of course, it’s about education. I believe that you can teach children this skill of recognizing our humanity and helping them to develop the courage to stand up for each other, even if it means ridicule from our families, our religious community or other cultural structures that they find themselves in. If we can teach guide dogs for the blind intelligent disobedience  (the dog’s ability to know when not to execute a command it’s given when that command would bring harm to the person), then we can teach kids mindful disobedience as well.

Hopefully, newer generations will feel compelled to take positive action in the face of what may be the status quo of their culture or the system they find themselves in.  This could take the form of telling someone politely that their racist joke is actually quite offensive or disagreeing with your pastor’s advice to vote a certain way, or choosing not to post something on social media that dehumanizes others.  Deviation from these behaviors will hopefully cultivate a “new normal” over time, in which we begin to understand that the rights of others are everyone’s responsibility, regardless of race, religion, gender or beliefs. Respect and acceptance can become commonplace in our political and social systems if we develop awareness in ourselves and our children. I do believe that we can be “delivered from evil”, and I hope that you will take a moment to pause and consider how you might become a better human being as well because it’s simply the RIGHT thing to do.

 

 

Instructions Not Included

I am a parent. Like most parents, my child did not come with any instructions, and, although I am an educator, that doesn’t mean that I know everything about kids. In fact, I feel even more self-conscious since my parenting is probably more judged since I’m supposed to be an expert. Alas, I do my best.

And, I definitely have given it some thought. I know as a parent, I have a ridiculous amount of responsibility for sculpting my child’s disposition and interest.  I am Hannah’s first and her last teacher, like most parents, because my influence is the most enduring. So if I hope to impart some lessons in life that I hope Hannah gets from me, it would be….

  1. That she matters and the world is a bit brighter because of her. Her ideas are important and worthy to be shared.
  2. That there are no problems which are too difficult to solve. We may not have the answers today, but we should never give up on looking.
  3. To say “Yes” to life–take risks and be willing to look foolish. Don’t let the “good opinion” of others stop you from trying something.
  4. No matter what life throws at you, there’s some good in it.  Look for the blessing.
  5. That she is connected to all people–so be friendly. They are all family, God’s children, and we should find what is loveable about them and ways to show that we care.
  6. That she is connected to all life, for that matter–so be a steward to animals and our planet whenever you have the chance.
  7. That she is loved, no matter what and we want to see her to become her best self.

we-talk-to-our-children-parenting-quoteAlvin Price said, ” Parents need to fill a child’s bucket of self-esteem so high that the rest of the world can’t poke enough holes to drain it dry”.  I feel that is some good advice and I often try to focus on what I love about her.  Hannah is funny and imaginative.  She’s one of coolest people I know and I really enjoy spending time with her.

The other day she invited me into her “world” in Minecraft. Let me tell you, I did NOT want to play Minecraft with her. Really, I didn’t. As a busy adult, I have plenty of stuff to do. But she was really proud of what she created and she wanted me to see it virtually. So I downloaded the app on my iPhone, created a character and added her as a friend. Suddenly I was in her “Love World”. She had made me my own house and she taught me how to fly, tame a horse, feed the pigs and drink invisibility potion. I would never have thought I’d enjoy hanging out with her “virtually”, but it was important to her so I made it important to me.

I heard in an interview with John Crowley, the man portrayed in the movie Extraordinary Measures, the details of his search for a cure for his kids’ Pompe disease. It is an amazing story. He founded a biotech company in order to “buy some time” with his daughter and one of his sons. In fact, he and his wife have 3 children, 2 of which has this debilitating Pompe disease which makes them wheelchair bound and the other child has Asperberger’s disease. Can you imagine that?–all 3 children are special needs! And the man had such great humility, I was astonished. In it, he spoke about his daughter, Meaghan, and how she has “raised him”, not necessarily the other way around. But it’s true–children do help raise us into the adults we wish to be. Because our example is so significant to them and our love for our children are so great, we strive to be more and do more good.

For kids, instructions weren’t included either, and yet they figure us parents out too. I suppose that is the power of unconditional love: it gives us strength, patience, and joy as we endure our failings and uplift one another.  Now, who can really write a manual on that?

What lasting lessons do you want your children to have?

What do you think your children are teaching you?

The Dogma of Your Sport

As an educator, I’m always looking out to the future, thinking about what will be the world for my students as they emerge into adulthood. With that in mind, I am always foraging for ideas, not just in my field, but outside the domain of education. I feel strongly that if you want to have an insight in your field, it helps to look outside your field to gain important perspectives and concepts.

I heard a Jiu Jitsu World Champion, Josh Waitzkin, talk about how important it was for him to train with dirty players–competitors who intentionally and shamelessly break the rules of the sport in an effort to win, in order to mentally get over the expectations of how the game is supposed to be played–that perfect world in which everyone follows the rules and the game is clear cut and obvious.He stopped being offended by these dangerous and dishonorable moves and instead embraced it with curiosity and intrigue. It was because of this openness that he was able to rise to being the champion that he is because there was nothing that another player could do to him to throw him off. When he referred to these belief systems about playing the game as “the dogma” of his sport, it really resonated with me.  Truth is, we all have some dogma in our careers and relationships because we’ve calcified ideas about how things ought to be in an unrealistic neat and perfect world.

To be aware of a voice inside your head that says : “It doesn’t make any sense.”,  it’s always a sign of something really powerful…in saying that “it doesn’t make sense” this means that there are logical reasons why things ought to be a certain way. But the world always makes sense, but what doesn’t make sense is your model of your world...You have to revise your hypothesis. ….What would you need to see to change your view? This is the best question ever.

Adam Robinson, founder of the Princeton Review

I love this idea that was shared on the Tim Ferriss Show by Adam Robinson, which challenges us to look at our belief systems and question it at a deeper level–what opinions or perceptions do we hold that may need to be confronted and analyzed? We keep looking at external factors to change but the truth is that it is us who must change to fit the new circumstances. If we can endeavor to be malleable and plnobility.jpgiable, then we will have the resilience and endurance to go through life with more grace and avail ourselves to higher levels of success.

As I am always longing to be the best version of myself, I recently enrolled in an MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) called the Innovator’s Mindset (#IMMOOC), based on the book of the same title by George Couros.  This course and book are geared toward educators, but I think it could be applied to a variety of skill sets, as he challenges his readers to “innovate inside the box”. So true–and it totally connects, at least in my mind, to this whole idea of shifting our definitions and developing new strategies to move us forward as educators- Challenge the Dogma of our Sport! We have to let go of our expectations and embrace the constraints in our schools so we can be pioneers and creators to produce our next generation of innovators and leaders.

So I keep wondering what “dogma” do I adhere to? What “doesn’t make sense” to me? Those questions linger in my mind and I will continue to contemplate and reflect upon for probably my whole life. When I reframe these beliefs into questions, it makes it easier for me to grapple with them. For example:

Professional

  • Does there need to be a power struggle between students and teachers, as we give students more agency in their learning?
  • How can we give students more autonomy and still maintain “control” in the classroom and cover the content?

What would I need to see/experience to change my view about control of the learning environment?

Personal

  • How can I love those people that justify their hatred and bigotry with their religion?
  • In what ways am I just like the people that I consider antagonists to my personal values?

What would I need to see/experience to change my view about our human potential to develop a more peaceful and accepting world?

Perhaps this post has also given you some pause and you also turn inward to think about what personal or professional beliefs you persist in that aren’t serving your higher purpose. Please comment below or connect with me @judyimamudeen to share how you might answer Adam’s question: What would you need to see to change your view?

 

NEXT.

universeLooking back I can see all the uncanny signs that Barcelona, Spain wasn’t meant to be, but I didn’t imagine that we’d be moving to Laos. Yes, that’s right, I’ve accepted a contract and we are moving to Vientiane, Laos. For the last two months, my husband and I have had the mantra: let’s create a move that works for all of us (My husband, my daughter and me). This triple win was an essential component of our decision-making process. We’ve been grappling with making this choice for the last 2 weeks since it meant that I would have to defer leadership opportunities at other IB schools and merely be “just a teacher”–when I shared my worry out loud, one of my cherished colleagues at school reprimanded me for framing it as an insult. I’m really grateful that she told me off because she gave me an important perspective and I needed to reflect on my litmus test for my next position. Making decisions based upon job titles when our life’s work should be about joy, is how our ego can be our own undoing.

Ego always prevents you from accomplishing the success that you want to have. ..It’s not that ego prevents you from what you want to do. It’s that ego prevents you from what you want to do next….So you can never stop being a student because students are humble-they know that there is someone above them that can teach them.

Ryan Holiday, author of Ego is the Enemy

Last year I read Where Good Ideas Come From, by Steven Johnson and this book’s premise of the moving towards the adjacent possible has left a residue on my soul. I caconnectionnnot shake the excitement of developing innovation, especially in education. I’m a progressive educator and I really wanted to work at a school that was absorbed in this process.  When I shared that I had interviews with Vientiane International School, several of my colleagues got excited for me, and more than one person said that it was a “dream school”. As I engaged in dialogue about curriculum and education during my interviews at VIS, it was the oddest sort of communion that one might feel when they are undergoing a vetting process. I began to understand why it was such a highly respected school in Asia.  I feel like I have signed up for a journey towards this “adjacent possible” and I am grateful that I get to be a “just a teacher”, fully engaged and focused on cultivating the next generation of leaders, inventors, writers, diplomats, engineers, doctors, artists, entrepreneurs, and educators. Etc….

Even though it may seem on the outside that I have strayed from a certain professional trajectory, I have come to trust my intuition, being infinitely surprised by how magic and miracles show up when I lean in with faith. It felt the best fit for our whole family, and I look forward to seeing what opportunities will emerge for my husband now, as he looks to work at NGOs and/or in the hydroelectricity field.  Life is full of surprises and zig-zags, and sometimes you just have to adjust your sails so you can catch the wind. This past year has definitely been the case.

Although I intend to savor my current experience here in China, I am finishing the sentences of this chapter of my life.

Next.