Equality, Justice, and a Makeover for America

It’s time to create new constructive realities.

Posted Jun 29, 2020

Source: freeimages

As a nation, we’ve suffered terribly the past few months, if not the past few years. We’ve seen record unemployment, the economy crash, millions sick and nearly 130,000 deaths due to Covid-19. And the numbers rise daily as government leaders bumble along. 

But in other ways, good ways, it’s like we’re on a bullet train that’s gaining speed to true equality for all. One important indicator is that, unlike waiting 15 years for Martin Luther King Day to become a federal holiday - and another 17 for all 50 states to adopt it - it’s possible Juneteenth may be a national holiday in the next year or two. To paraphrase a talking head, July 4 isn't a Black holiday of Independence as descendants of slavery weren’t all freed until June 19, 1865.

Let’s explore our two current realities: the global pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests. These realities are confronting all of us with multiple challenges which are simultaneously demanding, novel, complex, and life-changing.

The Covid-19 Pandemic

Earlier this year, people everywhere were confronted by the emerging Covid-19 pandemic, resulting thus far in hundreds of thousands of deaths globally, economic disasters, and deteriorating mental health for many individuals and families. As we engage these realities, and their associated demands of staying sheltered at home while constantly practicing social distancing, we are reminded of our own humanity, our need to be connected with our community, and the crucial importance of being personally resilient.

The current pandemic forces us to recognize our critical need for social connection, compassion, and personal nurturance, as well as new forms of coping with uncertainty and distorted time perspectives with a nebulous future orientation.

Additional emerging lessons from this novel virus have to do with recognizing the deficiencies of our social, medical, community, and political systems. As the pandemic blasted our nation, we discovered how ill-prepared we were to respond to the instant and constant medical needs of so many citizens, and that our hospitals lacked basic supplies and sufficient skilled staff. Effective, coordinated disaster management in cities and states around the nation was totally absent or at best partial, and rarely engaged in forward-looking integrated strategies. Nations that did so, like New Zealand and Iceland, succeeded in suppressing the pandemic in their citizens. They are our beacons of hope, but we did not follow their simple lessons.

Making matters worse is the absence of forceful, intelligent leadership from the president and his cabinet. Instead, we try to make sense of incoherent, misleading, or wrong advice as we listen to specious reassurances that everything will soon be fine, or is indeed already fine while the death count soars. Misdirection and lack of coordinated plans at all levels of government have fueled the spread of this deadly scourge.

It is not surprising to any thoughtful citizen that this widespread emergent chaos has acted as a catalyst for exposing even more severe, long-dormant manifestations of social inequality and fundamental injustice—with more COVID-19 deaths showing up among the poor in urban areas, and aming Black, Hispanic, and Native American citizens.

The Black Lives Matter Societal Movement

Over the months, we have witnessed the deepening gaps of inequity between American citizens of different racial, cultural, and economic backgrounds. This has been revealed through the unfair allocation of community resources, with excesses to police departments, while schools and community resources suffer with deficits. The recent public exposure of extreme, arbitrary forms of police brutality against innocent Black civilians has been alarming to many who were previously unconcerned with such issues.

However, the spotlight of evil in our policing system has never shone as brightly as it did by revealing the conditions surrounding the brutal murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis. This act against a compliant Black civilian was captured for eternal viewing by a teenage passerby, a heroine named Darnella Frazier.

The current racial justice uprising across America has spread globally and is an invitation for a cultural awakening toward reconstructing inadequate systems that have mis-functioned for decades and centuries in America, and that benefit privileged social groups and disadvantage and seriously harm people of color.

The Conjuncture of Covid-19 and Racism

As Angela Davis, professor emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz states, “This is an extraordinary moment. I have never experienced anything like the conditions we are currently experiencing, the conjuncture created by the COVID-19 pandemic and the recognition of the systemic racism that has been rendered visible under these conditions because of the disproportionate deaths in Black and Latinx communities. And this is a moment I don’t know whether I ever expected to experience.”

Much scientific research demonstrates that effective outcomes are achieved by addressing the situational/structural determinants that create and maintain “bad barrels” which are the corrupting environment for transforming once good apples into bad apples. The analogy with once “good cops” becoming “bad cops” following military-style training is obvious.

Let it be our goal to replace those corrupting barrels with newly designed ones that uplift what is best in human nature. Let's redesign police training programs to create officers who serve their designated communities with honor, and thus are valued by citizens. The central rallying call coming from such a movement is to Defund the Police. Essentially it means reducing over-inflated police budgets, then allocating those excess funds to a variety of essential community resources.

It is time for new constructive realities to be created. If we are to improve upon these painful realities it is incumbent upon us to collaborate in engaging new effective systems. We need to learn what we can about the structure of our individual and social systems and then respond with effective tools that can yield personal resilience and collective equality.

We Have a Plan to Help

For these reasons and more, the Zimbardo Systemic Engagement program was created. The program begins with an introduction to the skills of personal and collective resilience. Participants learn to be present with others and to employ proven methods of empathetic listening that help create supportive social connections. They learn to recognize the mind’s tendency to be fixed and self-critical as well as skills needed to switch towards cultivating a flexible growth mindset. Doing so strengthens mental stability and beliefs in the ability to be effective in whatever tasks we engage. Cultivating these profound skills of resilience is always crucial, and even more so currently during these challenging times. Our mission is to cultivate resilience, social justice, systemic diversity, and inclusion. (The program can support individuals and organizations, as well as award continuing education units to those in the helping professions.)


See Philip Zimbardo’s Webinar: Systemic Engagement Program: Supporting Our World at this Time of Need In this new webinar, Phil Zimbardo will take us on an unusual journey of exploration and introspection, reviewing both the psychology of evil and the psychology of heroism, with old and new faces.