Excerpted from The Book of Secrets, Deepak Chopra.
In 1971, students at Stanford University were asked to volunteer for an unusual experiment in role playing. One group of students was to pretend they were prison guards in charge of another group who pretended to be prisoners. Although it was understood that this was make-believe, a jail setting was provided, and the two groups lived together for the duration of the experiment. According to the plan, everyone would play their roles for two weeks, but after only six days the prison experiment had to be terminated. The reason? The boys, chosen for their mental health and moral values turned into sadistic, out-of-control guards on the one hand and depressed victims of exorbitant stress on the other. The professors conducting the experiment were shocked but couldn’t deny what had occurred. The lead researcher, Philip Zimbardo, wrote: "My guards repeatedly stripped their prisoners naked, hooded them, chained them, denied them food or bedding privileges, put them into solitary confinement, and made them clean toilet bowls with their bare hands." Those who didn’t descend to such atrocious behavior did nothing to stop the ones who did. (The parallel with infamous acts by American prison guards in Iraq in 2004 prompted Zimbardo to bring the Stanford experiment back to light after more than thirty years.) There was no extreme to which the student guards would not resort short of outright physical torture, Zimbardo mournful recalls, "As the boredom of their job increased, they began using the prisoners as their playthings, devising ever more humiliating and degrading games for them to play. Over time, these amusements took a sexual turn, such as having the prisoners simulate sodomy on each other. Once aware of such deviant behavior, I closed down the Stanford prision."
Where did this runaway abuse come from? For comforts sake, we usually say that it exists in a few "bad" apples," but the Stanford experiment suggests something more disturbing: Evil exists in everyone as a shadow, for the person is a counter to the shadow of evil, of course, and if we return to our list of shaping forces on consciousness, each person would exhibit a different map of influences. But if you are fortunate enough to have made choices on the good side of the equation, you must still acknowledge that the shadow exist in you somewhere.
The shadow was formed by the same everyday situations that shape our consciousness, and it is released by new situations that parallel them. If you were abused as a child, being around children can bring up those old memories. The Stanford experimenters devised a list of conditions that cause people to do things we’d call evil, or at the very least alien to our true selves.
Have a super weekened!