Mind Matters: Are you thinking?

Years ago, in 1963, Hannah Arendt, a political philosopher, wrote about Adolf Eichman, the Nazi who murdered millions of Jews. Her book was titled “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.” Arendt observed that Eichmann did not start out as an “anti-Semitic monster” but was a “normal person who had what was for his time a normal upbringing and education,” said Elizabeth Minnich in “The Evil of Banality.” Minnich was a student of Arendt’s and she has reversed the emphasis from evil to banality itself.

I have just begun reading “The Evil of Banality” and make no pretense to give it its full due here, so I plan to continue the topic in the next column.

However, just starting the book has gotten me reflecting on my own little evils of banality that I have committed over time. I’ve begun wondering whether I would have the courage to be the resister of injustice and evil if I were confronted with the dilemma of choice between following authority and violence — even though it was inflicting cruelty — or standing up to such power, no matter the consequences. What would I do? Eichmann wasn’t the only individual in history who “just followed orders.”

Not questioning, not thinking, just going along, happened in the apartheid in South Africa, it happened in Rwanda, it’s happening here when ICE officials cruelly hunt down immigrants even while they apply for green cards. We blame systems and argue that “it’s systemic” but Minnich asserts it still remains the individual’s choice.

Some people do resist and stand up to injustice. Furthermore, she said, “People who are not thinking are capable of anything…when systems are turned bad, when the extraordinary becomes ordinary, it does not take a Hitler, an Idi Amin, a Jeffrey Dahmer, a Charles Manson, or any other unusual sort to become a perpetrator. It just takes a practical conventionality, a clichéd conscience, emotional conformity, susceptibility to small scale bribing by salary, loot, status…it just takes…an ability to go along thoughtlessly…without…reflecting, questioning.”

Now that I have moved to Massachusetts after living in Chadds Ford for 30 years, I can tell my own story of going along without questioning. Nothing brave about standing up for principle after the fact and so far away, but here goes.

Years ago, Chadds Ford was a Republican stronghold. During that time, we tried to get a variance for an addition to our home, 10 years of trying. Finally, one day, someone in the know in the township took me to lunch and said, “You want an addition, right? Well, all you have to do is change your voter registration from Democrat to Republican, pay your fees, and you’re good to go. Oh, and we’ll even give you a seat on the Mental Health Advisory Board of Delaware County.”

I went along and did as I was told and stayed a registered Republican for many years, just to be safe. Also during this time, the Civic Association of Chadds Ford (yes, ironically, “civic”) was holding its election of officers. It was announced that only individuals who came to the meeting could vote. Democrats (I too) wanted a voice in this organization, so showed up in force at the meeting in order to vote. Well, the Republicans stuffed the ballot box with votes cast by all their cronies who were not present. They won, of course.

Did I call them out on it and voice my disgust at this underhandedness? No, I put up and shut up. Although my silence was not the same as mindlessly going along with and carrying out cruel and violent orders, I feel that it still plays out on the continuum of not standing up for what is right and is a collusion that may be the slippery slope that descends into the evil of banality. Just go along, don’t make waves, don’t question, don’t think… .

* Kayta Curzie Gajdos holds a doctorate in counseling psychology and is in private practice in Belmont, Massachusetts. She welcomes comments at MindMatters@DrGajdos.com or 610-388-2888. Past columns are posted to www.drgajdos.com. See book.quietwisdom-loudtimes.com for information about her book, “Quiet Wisdom in Loud Times: The Rise of the Wounded Feminine.”

** The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ownership or management of Chadds Ford Live. We welcome opposing viewpoints. Readers may comment in the comments section or they may submit a Letter to the Editor to editor@chaddsfordlive.com

 

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About Kayta Gajdos

Dr. Kathleen Curzie Gajdos ("Kayta") is a licensed psychologist (Pennsylvania and Delaware) who has worked with individuals, couples, and families with a spectrum of problems. She has experience and training in the fields of alcohol and drug addictions, hypnosis, family therapy, Jungian theory, Gestalt therapy, EMDR, and bereavement. Dr. Gajdos developed a private practice in the Pittsburgh area, and was affiliated with the Family Therapy Institute of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, having written numerous articles for the Family Therapy Newsletter there. She has published in the American Psychological Association Bulletin, the Family Psychologist, and in the Swedenborgian publications, Chrysalis and The Messenger. Dr. Gajdos has taught at the college level, most recently for West Chester University and Wilmington College, and has served as field faculty for Vermont College of Norwich University the Union Institute's Center for Distance Learning, Cincinnati, Ohio. She has also served as consulting psychologist to the Irene Stacy Community MH/MR Center in Western Pennsylvania where she supervised psychologists in training. Currently active in disaster relief, Dr. Gajdos serves with the American Red Cross and participated in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts as a member of teams from the Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.Now living in Chadds Ford, in the Brandywine Valley of eastern Pennsylvania, Dr. Gajdos combines her private practice working with individuals, couples and families, with leading workshops on such topics as grief and healing, the impact of multigenerational grief and trauma shame, the shadow and self, Women Who Run with the Wolves, motherless daughters, and mediation and relaxation. Each year at Temenos Retreat Center in West Chester, PA she leads a griefs of birthing ritual for those who have suffered losses of procreation (abortions, miscarriages, infertility, etc.); she also holds yearly A Day of Re-Collection at Temenos.Dr. Gajdos holds Master's degrees in both philosophy and clinical psychology and received her Ph.D. in counseling at the University of Pittsburgh. Among her professional affiliations, she includes having been a founding member and board member of the C.G. Jung Educational Center of Pittsburgh, as well as being listed in Who's Who of American Women. Currently, she is a member of the American Psychological Association, The Pennsylvania Psychological Association, the Delaware Psychological Association, the American Family Therapy Academy, The Association for Death Education and Counseling, and the Delaware County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Board. Woven into her professional career are Dr. Gajdos' pursuits of dancing, singing, and writing poetry.

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