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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Delhi South chapter.

I may be in the minority when I say that I have a soft spot for certain special morally grey characters (okay, they’re mostly villains). However, I am in no way referring to actual sinister and evil characters that can cause actual, lasting harm to others. Hence the term ‘morally grey’. But say we do talk about said villains. “The line between good and evil is permeable and almost anyone can be induced to cross it when pressurized by situational forces.” Says Philip Zimbardo in his book The Lucifer Effect. This story is an example of what we now call the Lucifer effect. It’s the idea that anyone, even angels, can transform evil under the right (or wrong, in this case) circumstances. But why limit this theory to Lucifer?

Renowned psychologist Philip Zimbardo explores this phenomenon in his book The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. Using historical examples and his own research, he explains what drives people to do shocking things. Zimbardo shows us how once good and honest men and women can become quite the opposite through situational forces and group forces working together. This is where the theories of ‘situationism’ and ‘dispositionism’ come in. While the former deals with the kind of environment one is placed in, the latter is mostly concerned with the inner workings of one’s mind. With your temperaments, inhibitions and all things positive- and negative – that go in inside your mind. Zimbardo says it’s a common misconception that people are good or bad. The thing is, personalities aren’t static, they’re in a constant process of evolution. Think about how your behaviour differs in professional and personal settings. Do you behave the same way in these situations? The answer is probably no. Look at how your bestfriend interacts with you and then your parents. Its a complete personality transformation (for which they deserve all kinds of lauding, in my opinion). Our personalities are extremely pliable and permeable (we don’t give it enough credit). As the level of versatility is high, so is the case with the stakes and the probability of things going haywire (as they mostly do in fictitious settings).

A quite famous example is the Stanford Prison Experiment, which he spends a good part of his book discussing. In it, normal everyday students were asked to play the roles of prisoners and guards. In a disturbingly short time, the ‘guards’ began to act abusively towards the “prisoners”, despite the fact that everyone knew both the crimes and authority were fictional. Zimbardo also explores the tragedy of Abu Ghraib, his thesis is that a perfect storm of conditions caused normally decent people to commit horrifically abusive acts. Although his book skirts around the ideas of violence prevalent in the middle east, the theory of transformation from good to evil is generic enough to be applied elsewhere.

I believe that there are elements of both ethics and circumstance involved in human behavior, but that there is a ‘bottom line’ or threshold that we will not cross without sufficient coercion. Apart from this, many people believe that there is one ‘specific’ gut-wrenching, mind-numbing, life-altering transformative moment that makes one the way he/she is. But I’ll have to disagree with this (only to a certain extent). Sure, there is always that ONE scene that defines their transition from good to evil but I feel that it is a far longer and drawn-out process.

“It proves that time, distance, and devastation allow people enough opportunity to craft villains out of people they don’t even know.” “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Such quotes have time and time again displayed the artists’ thoughts on what is deemed good and evil. And how characteristically unambiguous the line between the two can become. I came across an explanation for the quote is “a philosophical summary that, no matter what good you intend to do, as long as you live and continue, you will bring about just as much evil as good, if not more through accident or intent.” Quite a grim take on the quote and the situation it is said in, but can be considered apt.

Picking an example from within the Hindu Mythology, let us look at one of the most morally grey characters that I (in my opinion, obviously) have ever come across. Shakuni- his malevolence, his somewhat permanently wounded ordeal, and his distrusting take on life and the people around him did come from a place of deep hurt and grief. One cannot simply ignore the years of torture and the mental anguish that he had to endure. That kind of baggage isn’t easy to let go of. It’s heavy. I’m not here to justify what they did (or didn’t do, for that matter). Nor am I romanticizing their actions. What I aim to do is far simpler. Make you look at them in a way you probably didn’t before. The sum of the parts is greater than the whole. The rest lies with you.

Honorary mentions to:
Dr. Doofenshmirtz
Plankton from Spongebob
Anakin Skywalker

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Preesha Choudhary

Delhi South '24

Just your average teenager who loves books, food and music. And then some. She is an English major, her life revolves around reading for college, reading to sleep, reading to procrastinate etc. If you are on her page, she already likes you. Be like her. Read a lot.