Yesterday, I found out that one of my favorite movies of all time, “Titanic,” is coming back to theaters this April. At first, I was surprised, but then I realized that this makes perfect sense, considering the current state of affairs in this country. One of the most memorable scenes in this film has to be near the end, when the ship is sinking, and only the rich are allowed into the inadequate number of life-boats that were boarded onto the craft. Too many floatation devices would have dirtied the beautiful image of this boat, making it clear that the decision makers valued looks over lives. In any event, as chaos ensued, and people perished in the frigid waters of the sea, the small orchestra played as if nothing was amiss.
In some ways, this is exactly what I feel is happening in our society right now. America is sinking, and it seems that those in charge have only provided for the wealthiest few. Naturally, and finally, this has led to protests around the nation, urging law-makers to re-integrate fairness into our corporate systems. Some, like the musicians on the iconic vessel, are standing by waiting for the crisis to pass. Though, despite the peaceful nature of those speaking their minds, things have turned violent. On Friday, a University of California at Davis police officer was caught on camera as he doused several non-resisting students with pepper spray. In an excellent article about this event, “The Washington Post,” reports that this “non-lethal” weapon, “can cause tissue damage, respiratory distress, and in rare cases, death.” Why then, would a campus cop use such an instrument on people who were not posing any danger? Of course, this story, and the accompanying videos have caused outrage for many, and in at least one case, have served as the basis for some pretty amazing art.
In a famous study by Yale University Psychologist, Stanley Milgram, participants were divided into groups where some of the individuals were asked to deliver electric shocks to others. (This is the kind of thing researchers were allowed to do before we had ethics committees!) Anyway, the findings of this experiment showed that ordinary people, under the command of authority, would forgo their own morals and inflict pain on others if that’s what they were told to do. These results were imperative in understanding the mechanisms which led so many to obey the Nazi regime. And hauntingly, it seems that some of these same dynamics, which I believe become even more pronounced in a questionable economy, continue to be at play.
History aside, we all need to find a way to stop the violence now. Stefan Lessard has been very vocal about this on his facebook page, and probably on Twitter, but Twitter drives me to distraction. In a recent post, Stefan urged us to “Push Love. Occupy Your Heart.” Thank you, Stefan! At a time when it seems our grace is gone, it’s words like these that turn water into wine.
Hayley Bauman, Psy.D.
Author of Serendipity and the Search for True Self