Moral Hypocrisy

It pays to be wary of those who are the quickest and loudest in condemning the moral failings of others – the chances are that moral preachers are as guilty themselves, but take a far lighter view of their own transgressions. In one study, researchers found that people rated the exact same selfish behaviour (giving themselves the quicker and easier of two experimental tasks on offer) as being far less fair when perpetuated by others. Similarly, there is a long-studied phenomenon known as actor-observer asymmetry, which in part describes our tendency to attribute other people’s bad deeds, such as our partner’s infidelities, to their character, while attributing the same deeds performed by ourselves to the situation at hand. These self-serving double standards could even explain the common feeling that incivility is on the increase – recent research shows that we view the same acts of rudeness far more harshly when they are committed by strangers than by our friends or ourselves.

Christian Jarrett writing in The British Psychological Society’s Research Digest

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 

How to tell good people from bad people

Behavior can be good or bad. But people themselves aren't good or bad-they have the capacity for doing either. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote in The Gulag Archipelago, “The line separating good and evil passes right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.”

Evil is not a thing you can point at and say, “There it goes!” or “Here it is!” Evil is a privation. A negation. Not something in itself. It's like rot to a tree. Without the tree, the rot wouldn't exist. Without a context of good, evil doesn't exist. So if you want to declare something evil, then you must also come to terms with what is good.

Stephen Goforth