History is replete with entire groups of people, organizations, and nations, engaging in horrific, immoral behavior, ranging from genocide, to riots and killings, to massive greed and corruption.
Justification of bad behavior occurs in a variety of ways. First, people begin to focus on desired outcomes, and rationalize the means to achieve them. If an outcome is important, people begin to believe that the “ends justify the means.”
Another means by which people justify their bad behavior is through “advantageous comparisons.” They downplay their own bad behavior by comparing it to the even worse behavior by others (“sure I stole a small amount of money, but my boss really took the company for big bucks”).
Often, people behave badly through diffusion of responsibility. This explains crowd behavior, such as looting during riots (“everybody was doing it”), or hazing behavior (“it’s a tradition, and I was hazed when I was new comer”). In addition, bad behavior occurs when the moral reasoning fails the person through devaluing of the victim (“they started it”; they deserve it”). Processes such as these lead to an escalation of violence (“he pulled out a knife, so I pulled out my gun”).
What is the antidote to moral disengagement? The key is to take personal responsibility for our actions and being alert to the dangers of moral disengagement. Step back and ask yourself if you would normally consider this action to be wrong. Also ask yourself if you are excusing the harm you are doing by blaming others or vice-versa.
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