Aggression, Culture, death, Fear, Judgement, Terrorism, Violence, Worldview Differences

Good vs. Evil in War, Violence, and Terrorism: An Ambiguous Perception from the Fishbowl

Humans do not come into the world with a predetermined fixed worldview, but instead their worldview is shaped by their personal experiences, culture, natural environment, and social environment, which constructs their perception of the world (Burr, 2004).  While perhaps many believe that the construction of what constitutes “good vs. evil” is universal, in reality the construction of good versus evil is created through the interaction of the individual with their social environment, cultural indoctrination, as well as individual experiences through time.  In many ways, we are like fish trapped in a fishbowl that have a limited view of what we see, often encapsulated by glass barriers that expose us to a narrow current of the vast resources of water.  In addition, the inner environment of our fishbowl  affects our formation of the world from the amount of space we are allowed freely to explore our own internal world and environment, to the availability of nutrients, clean water,  oxygen, and our  fellow fish determines our level of aggressiveness and perceptions of the world.

As the world continues to struggle with acts of aggression, war, and violence on a collective group scale, the world also continues to struggle how to define legitimate aggression in defending  our own collective group vs. terrorism (Bongar, 2007; & Nacos, 2012).   Acts of aggression and violence in the human species has plagued our entire existence, with the perceptions of who is “good” or “evil” a subjective reality that is often colored by the glass of our own fishbowl existence.   One human’s view of an act of aggression or violence carried out defending a group’s worldview is pious and good, but is viewed by another collective group as pure evil.  This view of “good vs. evil” of the collective group is dependent upon the group’s values, beliefs, and collective group interests regarding resources, safety, and security for themselves and their allies.  Just as many fish species travel together in “schools of fish”, we as human often organize ourselves into little swimming schools that are often determined by social groups as religion, nationality, ethnicity, race, or other ideologies.  We have created a world of competing “schools of fish”, where survival of the fittest is propagated in terms of an “us” vs. “them” paradigm.

Globalization in the last century has created a new type of environment, in which as a species we have failed to master creating waters that  support diversity in terms of acceptance of different worldviews .  Until the last century, humans had limited cultural contact, but with the advent of more efficient and mass modes of transportation, as well as advanced technology such as the internet, our small-contained fishbowls have turned into gigantic aquariums.  We have now been dumped into this giant aquarium where different cultures, societal beliefs, values, and religions have been immersed together,  while trying to establish a food chain of who “eats” who.   While the big fish are trying to establish their power hierarchy, it is often the “shrimps” or innocent civilians, trying to carve out existences that become consumed in the whole process.   Consumed in either fear of others in the world, or consumed as they become the civilian casualties of others jockeying for their own supremacy.

Often in the media and in social conversations, acts of terrorism are often considered to be carried out by “crazed lunatics” that are perpetrated by evil villains (Norris, Kern, & Just, 2003).  Personally, it is often easier to provide explanations in which mental pathology provides some type of explanation for behavior that seeks to annihilate, hurt, or kill another human being.  Focusing on the pathology of the individual is an easy way to rid the collective responsibility of social conditions that foster an environment where acts of violence are fostered.  Research examining individuals who have carried out acts of terrorism suggests that in reality the majority of these individuals do not meet the criteria that has been suggested to indicate psychopathology or a history of being evil in other facets of their lives (Borum, 2004; Cottee & Hayward, 2011; & Kruglanski, & Fishman, 2009).  Research has suggested the life experiences, social influence, cultural influence, and historical context where shame and humiliation have been major themes serve as a catalyst for a “good” individual to go down a path of carrying out acts of evil (Borum, 2004; Waller, 2005; & Zimbardo, 2004).  In understanding the evolution of a path functioning as a “good” person to an “evil” person, the individual’s experiences, societal, and cultural factors must be all examined not in isolation, but as a cumulative experiences, that facilitates a path of violence (Kruglanski & Fishman, 2009).

One explanation of how individuals are influenced from a societal level is Hofstede’s (1984) concept of collective versus individual societies has often been used as a classification system to explain cultural worldviews and the social norms, values, and expected behaviors.  Individualist cultures are described in terms of valuing self-independence, concerns for the individual and their immediate family, as well as having loose social structures in the community.  In contrast, a collectivist society values social connectedness, extended family and communal relations, and an emphasis on the group needs versus the individual needs.  Although nations and cultures have typically been classified as more individualist or collective in nature.  Oyserman, Coon, & Kennelmeier (2002) have proposed that both elements and cultural values run concurrently in a society, but depending on the situation, one cultural orientation may be more prominent, as well as there are individual differences among individuals.  Collective identities of belonging to a group can be fostered in a group by the creation of an external threat.    Kruglanski & Fishman (2006) asserted that collective societies are more likely to use terrorist acts as a form of aggression to initiate social changes that in their perceptions benefit the group.   Both terrorist groups, and recognized governments have monopolized on the collective identities of the masses, rallying individuals using fear to engage in acts of violence, that under normal circumstances these individuals would not most likely engage in.

Just as individual factors alone cannot account for the creation of terrorist, societal and cultural factors cannot fully account for an individual going “good” to “evil”.  If the environment alone accounted for acts of evil, large groups of people would engage in terrorism, and dissenting voices condemning acts of  terrorism, both from within and outside a group of people, would not occur.  Just as different cultural and social factors may spawn an environment that is conducive to the creation of terrorist, individual experiences, individual differences in cognition, perception, and levels of tolerance exist within individuals providing both vulnerabilities and protective factors of who goes down the slippery slope of engaging in terrorism.  The concepts of “good” and “evil” are ambiguous constructs, which are influenced by both societal, cultural, and individual lenses.  Who is the feared shark and those different lenses of subjectivity shape who is perceived as the  shark hunter.


Bongar, B. (2007).  The psychology of terrorism:  Defining the need and describing the goals. .  In B.  Bongar, L.  Brown, L Beutler, J. Breckendridge, & P.  Zimbardo (Eds.)  Psychology of terrorism.  New York, NY:  Oxford Press.

Borum, R. (2004). Psychology of terrorism. Tampa, FL: University of South Florida.

Burr, V. (2004). Constructivism. In M. Lewis-Beck, A. Bryman, & T. Liao (Eds.), Encyclopedia of social science research methods. (pp. 186-187). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi: 10.4135/9781412950589.n165

Cottee, S., & Hayward, K. (2011). Terrorist (e)motives: The existential attractions of terrorism.  Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 34(12), 963–986.   Retrieved from the Walden Library databases.

Hofstede, G. (1984). The cultural relativity of the quality of life concept. The Academy Of Management Review, 9(3), 389-398. doi:10.2307/258280

Kruglanski, A. W., & Fishman, S. (2006). The psychology of terrorism:“Syndrome” versus “tool” perspectives. Terrorism and Political Violence, 18(2), 193-215.

Kruglanski, A. W, & Fishman, S. (2009).  Psychological factors in terrorism and counterterrorism: Individual, group, and organizational levels of analysis.  Social Issues and Policy Review, 3(1), 1–44.

Matsumoto, D.  & Juang, L.  (2008). Culture and psychology (4th ed.).  Belmont, CA:  Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Nacos, B.  (2012).  Terrorism and counterrorsim (4th ed.).  New York, NY:  Pearson Education.

Norris, P., Kern, M., & Just, M. R. (Eds.). (2003). Framing terrorism: The news media, the government, and the public. New York, NY:  Routledge.

Oyserman, D., Coon, H. M., & Kemmelmeier, M. (2002). Rethinking individualism and collectivism: Evaluation of theoretical assumptions and meta-analyses. Psychological Bulletin, 128(1), 3-72. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.128.1.3

Waller J. E. (2005).  Becoming evil: The making of terrorists. International Journal of Contemporary Sociology, 42(2), 167–188. Retrieved from

Zimbardo, P. G. (2004). A situationist perspective on the psychology of evil: Understanding how good people are transformed into perpetrators. In A. G. Miller (Ed.), The social psychology of good and evil: Understanding our capacity for kindness and cruelty (pp. 21–50). New York, NY: Guilford.

Aggression, Bias, death, Fear, Judgement, Palestine / Israeli Conflict, parenting, prejudice, Stereotypes

When the World is Vulgar……

Oh little child, with your eyes open wide to the world, what future do you see?

Toys and guns, cookies and blood, and a people searching for serenity?

Mama and Baba are close to protect you from harm, so close your eyes and dream my little habibi!

Play with your toys, run against the wind, and feel the sun against your face.

A two- year- old’s world, exciting and new, so much to learn about this place.


Oh little child, with your eyes open wide to the world, tell me what do you see?

“Mama! Mama! Shoof (look)! Look! A big steel bird is coming to see me!

How lucky am I, to see such a thing, something so different and rare! Do all good little boys get to see these?

“Ya habibi! Run with mama, somewhere to a different new place!”

Mama! Mama! Why? How come the smile is gone from your gentle face?

Oh little child, with your eyes open wide, why do you no longer see?

The world still has much to show you and how life should idealistically be!

The big shiny steel bird brought you a surprise and now you no longer see!

A two-year-old child, blankly stares out from a lifeless, charred, bloody face.

Habibi close your eyes and let your soul fly to a safer land far away from this hellish place.


I wrote this poem five years ago, after watching broadcast news, in which I viewed a small Palestinian boy who had been gravely wounded in an Israeli air assault being worked on by medical professionals in a hospital.  I caught myself glued to the television unable to look away from the fear and look of confusion I saw in the toddler’s face.  Even though his face was charred in places by burns, and reddened by his own blood, his beautiful cherub appearance was still visible, making the vision of his face a mixture of both heaven and hell.  As I continued to watch the live broadcast, right before my eyes, I saw the “light”, “soul”, or “life” disappear out of the little boy’s eyes.  The look of fear was replaced by a blank empty stare.  The medical professionals continued to work on the innocent child, but the moment his eyes changed, I knew he had passed on to another realm.  The efforts of the doctor were useless on the destruction that had been ravaged on this child’s small body by the air strikes.  The doctors eventually stopped administering medical treatment, and one of the men closed the child’s eyes.

I sat on the couch, holding my youngest daughter, who herself was only an infant, with tears streaming down my face, unable to talk, or articulate the feelings I had about what I had witnessed through modern technology.  My husband looked at me with confusion and said “If you don’t stop crying, I swear I am going to take all of the televisions out of the house”.  My husband has always been irritated by my emotional sensitivity and reactivity to the world around me.  As I sat and tried to compose myself, I finally stood up and walked off muttering “At least that little baby doesn’t have to exist in this fucked up world anymore”.  I walked into my home office and promptly wrote the above poem, trying to use a more productive form of expression to deal with my emotions.  Yes, I do tend to use profanity when I am distressed.  My apologies to those who I might offend, but sometimes with all the insanity and vulgarity of our world, my only release is with a response that has an equal level of vulgarity to combat my disbelief in how cold, cruel, and inhumane humans can be.  Perhaps we need to replace the word “humanity” with a more suitable term, taking the attribute of the human species out of the whole concept.

Over a year later, while visiting my sister in California, I was one of the first people on the scene of an accident in which a small child, of Hispanic ethnicity, had fallen from three stories.  As I knelt by the child and grasped his small hand, I saw that same look of confusion and fear that I saw in the Palestinian boy’s eyes.  I watched helplessly as I witnessed the “life”, “light”, “soul”, or “spirit” leave the little boy’s eyes.  Not only did I watch it, I physically felt the departure of his essence leaving his body.  The little boy was still breathing when the ambulance arrived, but  from what I understand was later taken off life support because of the absence of  brainwave activity.  I knew the little boy was gone before I received this update; I not only saw, but also felt his soul leaving his broken body on the pavement below the apartment window from which he fell.  I felt a connection with this child, even though our brief encounter and introduction to each other lasted only a few moments.  I struggled mentally and emotionally for a time after this tragic accident, coming to terms with this child’s death that occurred physically right before my own eyes.

The next day after the accident, I sat on my sister’s balcony with my mother in the upscale apartment complex at which the accident had happened.  The people living above my sister were also out on their balcony as well, who happened to be a nurse and doctor, and who had witnessed the accident the previous day.  As I sat and half-heartedly listened to the conversation between my mother and the neighbors, I concurrently was lost in my own internal world (and yes I have a tendency to do this), but a comment from the neighbors above caught my attention.  I remember the women saying “Well we didn’t go down because the family was clearly Hispanic and I am sure the accident somehow had drugs involved”.  Again, my emotional sensitivity, as well as my own personal Achilles heel of emotional reactivity took over my faculties and judgment.  I stood up and walked back into my sister’s house, but not before muttering “Racist fucking bitch”.  Again, I uttered a spontaneous emotional vulgar insult and response to a situation and worldview of another human that I saw as completely vulgar.  The realization that two trained medical professionals had forsaken offering their medical expertise and services to a child based upon their own jaded stereotype of “Hispanics” was more than I could tolerate.

It is only upon later reflection, that I can make the differences and connections between these two events and the emotional responses that the events elicited within me.  The differences between these two events are as follows:

  1. One was an accident, the other was an aggressive act by other humans.
  2. One child was Palestinian of Arab descent, the other child was American of Hispanic descent.
  3.  One event spurred suggestions of how to prevent the future loss of life, one event spurred escalating hostility.
  4. One event I could personally come to terms with because it was an accident, one event I still struggle with because it was caused by human’s evilness.

The similarities between these two events:

  1.  A child died.
  2. The child was from a marginalized group, in which some sectors of society refuse to lend help based on this.

Annually when the summer heat enters my life, my mind often drifts to the summer that I held a child’s hand as he passed over to a safer place.  This summer is no different in that I still think about his family and wonder how they have dealt with this death.  This summer is no different in that conflict and war across our world continues to take the lives of the innocent, and often this involves innocent civilians; especially children who are trying to exist and live in a world where the powerful and greedy do not recognize their rights to live in safety and security.  This summer is no different in that much of the world that is not directly affected by this conflict turn their backs on the suffering of others.  This summer is no different in that people in general fail to lend a hand, or give support to those that they view different from themselves.

My question is:  How many summers have to pass before humans quit basing their judgments and actions on who deserves help on stereotypes of the “other”?  How many summers have to pass with the continued death of children in Palestine and elsewhere in the world caused by humans’ darker side and lack of empathetic concern and action?  I wrote the poem at the beginning of this piece nearly five years ago, even more shocking, the war and conflict has raged for more than 80 years;  how much more time has to pass before no more children are casualties of this conflict?

When humans quit being vulgar in their actions, perhaps I will learn to be less vulgar in my words as well.


Bias, Cross Cultural, education, Judgement, Personal Growth, prejudice, Psychology, Saudi Arabia, Stereotypes

The Biggest Lie: I Don’t Have Any Biases

my reality
How many times have you heard someone say “I don’t have any biases against any people!”? Whenever I hear people comment that they are free of biases, prejudice, or stereotypes in their daily living, I always question how authentic or honest they are being with others, and perhaps even themselves? As human beings, we engage in a process of “cognitive shortcuts” in which we tend to classify our environment and other humans into categories. Stereotyping is a categorical process that the human species consciously and unconsciously engages in that serves as a mechanism of trying to arrange our world in an orderly fashion where people are identified as belonging to groups based on race, gender, nationality, religion, ideology, social economic class, etc. We develop a set of characteristics associated with these groups are seen as being representative to the individuals that compose these groups (Crisp & Turner, 2010; Fiske, 2010; Feldman, 2009; Stangor, 2009; Wright & Taylor, 2007).

Traditionally, stereotypes have been associated as a phenomenon that leads to bias, prejudice, discrimination, and marginalization of people (Crisp & Turner, 2010; Feldman, 2009). Hence, researchers, academians, social scientists, and others have examined ways to reduce or eliminate stereotypes. Although stereotyping can lead to erroneous beliefs about a group of people, and individuals, the schematic processing does help individuals navigate their social worlds. The stereotypes we hold have been socialized through others around us, as well our vicarious experiences we have encountered through living. For example, living in Saudi Arabia, I found out through my own experiences of living, that men with long beards and short thobes (the traditional white dress of Arab men in the Gulf region) would typically not feel comfortable to interact with me because I am female. The first time I offered my hand to shake with an individual that had these traits, I was told “I do not shake hands with females”, I found myself blushing with embarrassment. Other experiences and comments I heard from others , as well as the media led me to develop a negative stereotype whenever I saw a Middle Eastern man with a long beard, and short thobe.

These stereotypes can often help us, but there is also a darker side that may lead us to making erroneous conclusions and decisions as well. My lesson in this happened one time on a return flight from Europe to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. I was sitting in first class with my husband and across the aisle was another man dressed in designer labeled clothes from head to toes. I viewed him as progressive, open-minded, and most likely well educated. Another man who had a long-beard, a short thobe, and was wearing the traditional ship-ships (traditional Arab sandals worn by men in the Gulf) boarded the plane with his family. I automatically assumed this man was conservative and represented repression to me. During the flight, the two men were exchanging heated words in Arabic. Based on my stereotypes, and my limited comprehension of Arabic, I faulted the man with the long beard. Later as I discussed the events with my husband, I was astonished to find out that the well-dressed man across the aisle from us was upset that the man with the long beard had been allowed to put his carry-on in the first class cabin, even though he was ticketed for economy seating. In reality, the individual who had been the oppressor in this situation had been the man who was well dressed and using an individual’s ticketing status as a social construct in which to marginalize another human being. I found myself feeling uncomfortable with my own recognition that I had jumped to conclusions of the situation based on the superficial appearances of the two men.

Instead of eliminating stereotypical processes, we need to focus on developing a better understanding of how stereotypical thinking can lead to situations where negative outcomes, such as prejudice, discrimination, and marginalization can occur (Aronson & McGline, 2009; Crisp & Turner, 2010; Fiske, 2010). More specifically, we need to acknowledge some of our own stereotypical thinking and biases that exist as part of the process of being human with our need to categorize and classify the people around us. By making these personal acknowledgements to ourselves, it gives us the understanding and reasoning to question at times our own actions, assumptions, and behaviors that can at times serve to bias our views of others.

Aronson, J. & McGline, M. (2009). Ch. 8: Stereotype and social identity threat. In Nelson, T. (Ed.) Handbook of prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination. New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Crisp, R. J., & Turner, R. N. (2010). Chapter 7: Prejudice. In Essential social psychology (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Fisk, S. (2010). Social beings: Core motives in social psychology (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Feldman, R. (2009). Essentials of understanding psychology (8th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Stangor, C. (2009). Ch. 1: The study of stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination within social psychology: A quick history of theory and research. In Nelson, T. (Ed.) Handbook of prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination. New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Wright, S. & Taylor, D. (2007). Chapter 16: The social psychology of cultural diversity: Social stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination. In Hogg, M. A., & Cooper, J. M. (Eds.). (2007). The Sage handbook of social psychology (concise student ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage

conformity, Judgement, Personal Growth, Saudi women driving, social pscyhology, Uncategorized

Too Many Judges Among Us


Judgment serves a purpose in our lives by giving us the ability to draw conclusions of what is safe vs. dangerous, good vs. bad, normal vs. abnormal, or beautiful vs. hideous.  Most of these mentioned dichotomies do not hold absolute truth, but are only arbitrary perceptions that are influenced by culture, beliefs, values, available knowledge, and serve as a form of “social regulation”.   

 All of us have had to undergo the experience of someone judging us.  The experience can be either pleasurable, painful, or at times, not have any meaning to the person being judged depending on the verdict that is delivered, as well as the relationship between the judge and the judged, and the ability of the judged person to recognize the meaning of the judgment.  For example, the judgment or diagnosis by a psychologist of problematic signs in a young child holds importance for the parents, but has very little personal significance to the child personally,  because the child has no perception of what that judgment (and yes a diagnosis is a form of judgment) means.   

I think it is safe to assume that most of us have experienced both the delight and pain of being judged.  Before we frolic in the delight of being positively judged, or wallow in the depths of rejection for being negatively judged, we need to consider not only the meaning of the judgment, but also the purpose and intent of the judge and judgment.  I think we have fooled ourselves into believing that we go through a phase during childhood and adolescents were we tend to conform to our peers, which we tend to believe makes us more likely to be over judgmental of others at any other time in our lives.  Before we accept this as a truth, watch a bunch of adolescent pick and tear apart another person based on her appearance, and then watch a group of adults go through the same process of someone that does not fit into their “truth” of what is normal and acceptable.

This past year, I was involved in a campaign pushing for women to be allowed legally to drive in Saudi Arabia.  I was not a pivotal player in this movement, although I did take up the cause through the use of social media, as well as getting behind the wheel and driving myself a couple of different times.  I have experienced the pain of being without transportation and having a family to take care of and at times being a prisoner in my own home because my husband is out of town, or because a driver had decided to leave our unemployment unexpectedly.  The issues involved in women not being allowed to drive is another blog, or for that matter, a book which maybe I will write in the future, but delving into the complicated issue is not my intent.  The purpose of bringing up this issue is to illustrate how people use “judgment” as a way to instill fear through labeling and passing judgments against those who dare to break the rules of what the majority of people in a social group consider normal and acceptable within their immediate social realms.

My involvement in the campaign came with many judgments, some judgments from people close to me, as well as some people that I have never met.  The judgments were a mixture of support and admiration to disdain, name-calling, and threats.  The positive support and judgments I have to admit bolstered my identity, and actually encouraged my behavior to go further into the movement.  Although the comments labeling me as a whore, infidel, law breaker, as well as threats also had a negative effect in making me question myself, as well as my actions that had led me to living in Saudi Arabia.  I was told by people, whose opinion I valued, that I had overstepped my boundaries because I am a Westerner (although I do hold Saudi citizenship), and should respect the local customs. 

What I learned through this experience, as well as other experiences, is that judgment not only serves as a form of social control, but it also serves as a form of hierarchical system to rank people according to some socially constructed system.  In a way, a jockeying for position and prestige based on a socially observed construct such as appearance, ethnicity, nationality, race, social class, level of social conformity, or some other form of grouping that humans have constructed.  The cognitive function that humans developed as a mechanism to size up situations in regards to the best course of action to take for survival, has transformed into a process of evaluation of the worth of others and ourselves.  A process that is constructed in trying to not only instill in ourselves that somehow we are superior, but also trying to reinforce to others our superior worth as well.  

I sometimes find myself wishing that I could return to the state of the newborn baby, with limited knowledge of the social judgments around me.  Perhaps not the newborn baby, but the toddler who had developed some level of independence, but has experienced minimal conditioning, that has not constrained their way of thinking and acting based on their social world.  Negative and positive judgments are both formed on some standard that we have developed through our interaction in the world that not only actively engages us in the process of judging ourselves, but others.  As our world around us socializes us in respect to the various truths that pervade the earth, the creativity of many of us is shaped and warped with the intent of gaining the positive judgments of those around us.  Even the non-conformist seeks to gain the approval of the other non-conformist, a phenomenon that has gained popularity in recent years.  By the way, I can honestly say that I actually relate to this non-conformist paradigm, but I yearn for the senses of my younger years when my way of seeing and exploring the world were based on some type of child logic, untethered by the judgments of others or myself.