Each Step

The longer we continue to make the wrong decisions, the more our heart hardens; the more often we make the right decision, the more our heart softens - or better perhaps, comes alive.  

Each step in life which increases my self-confidence, my integrity, my courage, my conviction also increases my capacity to choose the desirable alternative, until eventually it becomes more difficult for me to choose the undesirable rather than the desirable action.       

On the other hand, each act of surrender and cowardice weakens me, opens the path for more acts of surrender, and eventually freedom is lost. With each step along the wrong road it becomes increasingly difficult for people to admit that they are on the wrong road, often only because they have to admit that they must go back to the first wrong turn, and must accept the fact that they have wasted energy and time.     

Erich Fromm, The Heart of Man: Its Genius for Good and Evil    

I survived the Warsaw ghetto

Do not ever imagine that your world cannot collapse, as ours did. This may seem the most obvious lesson to be passed down, but only because it is the most important. One moment I was enjoying an idyllic adolescence in my home city of Lodz, and the next we were on the run. I would only return to my empty home five years later, no longer a carefree boy but a Holocaust survivor and Home Army veteran living in fear of Stalin’s secret police, the NKVD. I ended up moving to what was then the British mandate of Palestine, fighting in a war of independence for a Jewish homeland I didn’t even know I had.

Perhaps it is because I was only a child that I did not notice the storm clouds that were gathering, but I believe that many who were older and wiser than me at that time also shared my childlike state.

If disaster comes, you will find that all the myths you once cherished are of no use to you. You will see what it is like to live in a society where morality has collapsed, causing all your assumptions and prejudices to crumble before your eyes. And after it’s all over, you will watch as, slowly but surely, these harshest of lessons are forgotten as the witnesses pass on and new myths take their place.

Stanisław Aronson, 93 years old, writing in The Guardian 

The experiment that went out of control

Philip Zimbardo is one of the most controversial figures in psychology, said Katie Kilkenny in Pacific Standard. In 1971, the Stanford professor conducted a now notorious psychological experiment that placed 24 student volunteers as prisoners and guards in a simulated prison. The experiment quickly spun out of control, as the student guards became increasingly sadistic toward their prisoners and Zimbardo—who acted as prison superintendent—was accused of subjecting his volunteers to psychological torture. Four decades on, Zimbardo stands by his study—if only because it taught the world that anyone can be seduced by evil under the right circumstances. “[We like to think] our personality is relatively fixed, we are who we are, that we are not influenced by things around us,” says Zimbardo, 82. “This study says no, that might be true sometimes, but other times when you’re put in an unfamiliar situation where you don’t have any guidelines or rules that contain who you are, you could be anything.” He insists we’ve all witnessed this phenomenon: “Somebody you know suddenly begins to change because they’ve been given a certain role or authority.” Zimbardo admits that he, too, was corrupted by his prison role. “I lost my sense of compassion,” he says. “I totally lost that.”

The Week Magazine, August 7, 2015