The first [electric shock] button is 15 volts. [The subject] doesn’t even feel it. That’s the key. All evil starts at 15 volts.”

Philip Zimbardo’s TED talk “The Psychology of Evil” takes us into the darkest corners of the human condition’s deepest failures – evil. It is not the exclusive domain of stray madmen, but rather a more pervasive condition that can infect nearly everyone. Fortunately, its opposite or its antidote is equally ubiquitous – heroism.

Zimbardo talks about the “Banality of Heroism”, the notion of ordinary men and women (not exceptional people) stepping forward to do the right things. He comments that “Power without oversight is a fundamental problem.” Of course, official authority can be a strong tool for that authority, but so can the collective heroism of community. One witnesses this dynamic in the online world with self-policing forums and groups.

Leaders in all of us generate power, Managers in all of us oversee it. Both together step forward to heroically do the right things right.


Phil Zimbardo Banality of Heroism