Is It Easy To Be Evil?

Have you heard of the Stanford Prison Experiment? I didn’t until Tim Ferriss interviewed Philip Zimbardo about evil and his experiment in 1971. It was a test to investigate the psychological effects of perceived power. He took 24 male college students, randomly assigned 12 of them as guards, and the others as inmates in a mock prison. It was supposed to run for six weeks.

It was shut down in 6 days.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
Jeremiah 17:9 KJV

While I listened to his findings, Bible verses were popping in my head. I wanted to explore it further. Especially the effect being put in a power position had on the guards.

Power Corrupts, Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

On day one, the prisoners got tired of the night shift guards’ whistles and forced push-ups. They retaliated the next day by rebelling and barricading themselves in their cells. Day shift’s guards had to respond.

They broke into the cells, stripped the prisoners, removed their beds, and threw the leaders into solitary. Then, in general, began to harass and intimidate prisoners.

They moved up to psychologically controlling tactics. This broke the solidarity of the prisoners and formed an ‘us versus them’ mentality in the guards. They controlled all behavior on a whim, even when they could go to the bathroom.

It eventually broke one ‘prisoner’. The experiment even had the professor and his team thinking more like prison officials than scientists. They thought the disturbed man was trying to con them so he can get out of ‘prison’ early.

Spiraling Deeper Down The Rabbit Hole

On visiting day, the professor and crew manipulated the experiment to trick the men’s parents and friends that everything was okay. The also enforced arbitrary rules on them as well. They complained but went along with it. When they saw their loved ones, they complained about how bad they looked. The professor, fully into his role, blamed the prisoners for being weak.

When rumor of a prison break spread, rather than observing it, they set a trap. When it didn’t happen, they and the guards wanted revenge for having to go through the effort.

The guards escalated the harassment with duties like forcing the prisoners to do repetitive work like cleaning the toilets with only their hands. They made them do push-ups, jumping jacks, and whatever else they could think of to make them miserable. When a chaplain visited, the prisoners were so dehumanized that they only introduced themselves by their inmate number.

It was then that a third ‘prisoner’ had a breakdown and was released. Even during the parole hearings, the volunteer who was head of the parole board forgot it was an experiment and became authoritarian. When it was over, he was disgusted at who he’d become.

Time To Pull The Plug

It ended early when the researchers realized that the night shift guards were escalating abuse of the prisoners out of boredom. They didn’t know it was all being taped. The second nail in its coffin was when a volunteer saw the experiment for the first time and had the moral fortitude to question its morality. She was the only one out of 50+ people to do so.

What’s This Have To Do With Christianity?

The professor wrote a book called The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn EvilHe took good college kids with no sadistic tendencies and put them in a situation where they could be. And a few did. The Bible recognizes our tendency to do evil (Psalm 14:2-4). Jesus said that no one is good, except God (Luke 18:19).

The infamous Milgram Experiment is a good example. 65% of the subjects were willing to deliver a lethal dose of electricity to another person in the experiment. All of them went over 300 volts. This shows the ease with which we’ll set our moral codes aside.

In these cases, the ones abused were depersonalized, and due to that, easier to hurt. It’s called “othering”, not my group, lesser so, therefore, less valuable.

What’s Jesus Have To Say About It?

This shows the power in Jesus telling us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Applying that guards against dehumanizing others. Zimbardo writes, “evil consists in intentionally behaving in ways that harm, abuse, demean, dehumanize, or destroy others; or using one’s authority and systematic power to encourage or permit others to do so on your behalf.”

Situations and systems can make it easy to push the moral boundaries, “No one’s watching” in the case of the night guards. Or “Policy says that…” allows other transgressions because it’s the system doing it, not them.

This is the brilliance in Jesus’ teaching, His half-brother James wrote, “but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters.” (James 1:14-16)

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us to cut it off at the desires’ conception. Matthew 5:21 says don’t murder. Duh. Then he says this in verse 22, “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.


That’s where it starts. Remember the experiment, as the guards and scientists were sucked in they became angry, then they were even more abusive. He knows our propensity to immorality, especially in fertile situations. So he teaches us to stay far away from the possibility, and in doing so, reveals our hearts to us.

I’ll close this on this note.

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
Romans 3:22-24

Practical Leadership Advice From A Mentor

It’s important to have a mentor, someone who’s more experienced and further ahead of you to help you. Work has been a struggle with the same people following the same patterns. I’d done everything I could think of for one person, discussing what needs to be done, asking a more experienced man in the same department to take him under his wing. I was struggling with being tough, yet kind.

I could easily become a micromanaging control freak. So I asked my friend and mentor what to do. Two situations had happened at work and she walked me through how to handle them if they happened again. I’m glad I had paper and pen ready.

“I have to work another Saturday!”

This is a recurring conversation, one of them I wrote about in Expectation+Reality=Disappointment. It was already a bad day after I had gotten some unexpected bad news earlier. When the argument occurred this time, I didn’t keep my voice down.

This time I powered up. “I’m not having this conversation again, be here or not, I’m putting you into the book to work.” Then I walked away.

I learned from my conversation later to sit down and relax, invite the other to do the same. That’ll bring down some of the intensity by de-escalating body tension so you can respond calmer. In fact, the louder they get, do the opposite, become calmer. Calmness infects, yelling at someone who’s speaking in a level voice breaks the cycle.

Six General Techniques
  1. Remember rules are there for a reason, unless a rule is stupid. We have to remember that ourselves.
  2. Empathize with them, and explain the why. I do fairly well with that I think, though when communication breaks down with the front office it’s hard to explain “why”.
  3. Dangle a carrot, something to hope for. Hope goes a long way, but only if it’s followed through on.
  4. Defend my people to the boss, and they will defend me. Loyalty goes both ways. I’ve done this with varying degrees of success.
  5. Address little mistakes immediately, tell why just as a conversation before the problem perpetuates. In cases of ignorance, it’s a teaching moment. This is a good one I need to work on. It involves stepping out of my comfort zone, but if it is a teaching moment, well I do love teaching. That helps.
  6. If I take responsibility for others’ mistakes, it will slowly set up a culture (Outward Mindset’s assume it’s your fault and will work to fix it). This ties in with The Outward Mindset: Seeing Beyond Ourselves principle where “as far as you’re concerned the problem is you, not the person.” You get yourself right, and their response will depend on you. You’ll teach them and prepare them better, to act how I would like them to act.

I don’t like doing it. I even did a Bible study on it after the following event that became the What Does The Bible Say About Disciplining post. The guy I tried to be merciful with continued, and when he didn’t follow through on his duties again, I was determined to write him up.

It didn’t go well. He argued with me and I caught him breaking the rules (number 5 above, tied with number 6 helps fix that). It ate at me after he left.

Next time I’ll communicate clearer, and make sure people know they can take initiative to check and see if they have what they need to do their job or ask someone. That ties into #6.

What I learned later is to check on them after the write-up. After a hard conversation, follow up with relationship building.

We have a social economy with people, good times fill the relationship’s account, but hard conversations are like withdrawals. Sometimes you have to bankrupt it out of necessity and then build it back up.

It was great advice. I typed it up and put it on my clipboard for easy referral. Now to put it to use.

Nothing Is Going To Stop Them; Learning From Jesus

Note: This series is written as a first-person narrative in order to present Jesus in the context he walked with the unknown disciple that narrates presenting my thoughts and sparking more thoughts with his questions. Enjoy.

Days later we returned to Capernaum. Hearing that Jesus had returned home, people filled the house till it was overflowing, spilling out the door. Seizing the opportunity, he preached the Word.

At the fringe of the crowd were a group of men carrying their paralyzed friend to Jesus. They had heard of the miracles. No one would let them through, so they looked for the stairs to the roof.
“We can dig a hole and lower you down.”

One went up the stairs to check the roof. “Log beams,” he quietly said to himself, “with packed clay overlying the branches and reeds that were on top of the beams.” Looking down, he waved them up. Once on the roof, they set their friend to the side and got to work. The four of them should get through it pretty quick.

Inside, as dirt started falling, Jesus stopped speaking. He looked up as light pierced through the hole. Soon the rest came apart, and four faces looked down, then withdrew. Then the light was blocked as they lowered their friend.

Jesus smiled at the persistent faith the man’s friends had to have had to destroy a roof so their friend could get help. That’s one way to get attention.

Jesus looked at the man, lying unmoving on the mat. “Son, your sins are forgiven.

Why did he say that I wondered? Some teachers of the law that were in the room started looking at each other, shocked and irritated. Jesus looked at them, saying, “Why are you thinking these things?

“He knows their thoughts,” Nathaniel asked aloud.

Jesus continued, “Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.

The Son of Man from Daniel’s prophecy? I remembered what Daniel wrote about him, that God gave him authority, glory, and sovereign power. His kingdom would never be destroyed. Is Jesus claiming to be the fulfillment of this prophecy?

I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.

The man looked shocked as he found he could move his legs. He slowly stood up and looked at the equally amazed crowd. He rolled up his mat, looked up at his friends who were watching from the hole, and walked out. The crowd parted to let him through.

This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

“Who’s going to fix the roof,” I asked.

Mark 2:1-12