A Washington Post Book of the Year
“Makes a powerful argument for building, as early as possible, the ability to stand up for what's right in the face of peer pressure, corrupt authority, and even family apathy.”
Why do so few of us intervene when we’re needed—and what would it take to make us step up? We are bombarded every day by reports of bad behavior, from the school yard to the boardroom to the halls of Congress. It’s tempting to blame bad acts on bad people, but sometimes good people do bad things. A social psychologist who has done pioneering research on student behavior on college campuses, Catherine Sanderson points to many ways in which our faulty assumptions about what other people think can paralyze us. Moral courage, it turns out, is not innate. But you can train yourself to stand up for what you believe in, and even small acts can make a big difference. Inspiring and potentially life transforming, Why We Act reveals that while the urge to do nothing is deeply ingrained, even the most hesitant would-be bystander can learn to be a moral rebel.
“From bullying on the playground to sexual harassment in the workplace, perfectly nice people often do perfectly awful things. But why? In this thoughtful and beautifully written book, Sanderson shows how basic principles of social psychology explain such behavior—and how they can be used to change it. A smart and practical guide to becoming a better and braver version of ourselves.”
—Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness
“Encouraged me to persevere through many moments when it felt far easier to stop trying.”
“Points to steps all of us can take to become ‘moral rebels’ whose voices can change society for the better.”
—Walter V. Robinson, former editor of the Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team
“Sanderson offers sound advice on how we can become better at doing what we know is right.”
—George Conway, cofounder of The Lincoln Project
From bullying on the playground to sexual harassment in the workplace, perfectly nice people often do perfectly awful things. But why? In this thoughtful and beautifully written book, Sanderson shows how basic principles of social psychology explain such behavior—and how they can be used to change it. A smart and practical guide to becoming a better and braver version of ourselves.
Makes a powerful argument for building, as early as possible, the ability to stand up for what's right in the face of peer pressure, corrupt authority, and even family apathy. Citing case after case revealing how easy it is for people’s moral instincts to be muted, and detailing how that silence is visible on brain scans, Sanderson guides readers toward her inevitable conclusion: We can do better, we know how, and the tipping point to convert a virtue-challenged culture into a virtuous one is closer than we think.
Catherine Sanderson, like no other psychologist, invades our minds. Her riveting storytelling challenges us to rethink why we avert our eyes to evil, tolerate bullying, and excuse unforgivable workplace behavior. She plumbs the depths of social norms that too often prevent good people from being good and points to steps all of us can take to become ‘moral rebels’ whose voices can change society for the better.
Sanderson’s discussion of the consequences of failing to exhibit moral courage felt ripped from 2020 headlines—all of them. It informed my thinking and conversations with everyone…It encouraged me to persevere through many moments when it felt far easier to stop trying.
Provides lessons from neuroscience to explain how some simple strategies can help us fight the pressure to conform and develop moral courage.
Challenges readers to become moral rebels, foster empathy, and practice supporting others to do the same…The genius of Sanderson's text lies in offering a recognizable picture of moral compromise and an accessible account of steps to counteract it, a recipe for change that offers hope.
Much of what enables evil people to do evil things is that we stand idly by and let them. In this powerful, well-written book, Catherine Sanderson explains what psychology has taught us about why good people so often do nothing and offers wise suggestions that will enable more of us to step up and be ‘moral rebels’ when the situation calls for it. If you have ever regretted being silent (and who hasn’t?) this is the book for you.
In an age of government misconduct, corporate malfeasance, and #MeToo, it’s tempting to believe that bad things happen because of bad actors. But as Catherine Sanderson compellingly illustrates, these events aren’t just due to ‘a few bad apples’—they are enabled and sustained by good people who are complicit in behavior they know to be wrong. This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand why we can become silent bystanders to unconscionable actions—and what we can do to empower ourselves and others to speak out.
As unwilling witnesses to injustice, many of us have asked ourselves, ‘Why doesn’t someone do something?’ Catherine Sanderson answers this question of conscience in her powerfully persuasive book. This brilliant work stands at the intersection of social justice and social psychology. Using insights from academia, the torture chambers of Abu Ghraib, and crime scenes of police brutality, Sanderson analyzes the powerful forces that drive human beings to act against cruelty, injustice, and human suffering. The unrelenting rigor of her analysis, sweeping breadth of research, and evocative lucidity empower us to act—and also give us hope. This book comes not a moral moment too soon.
I tend to assume that all that can be said about human nature was said by Aristotle. Catherine Sanderson has challenged my prejudice with this lively and engaging book full of interesting observations about human beings and their actions. Or has she ‘merely’ updated Aristotle through the lens of modern social psychology? If so, that’s a worthy achievement.
Why do so many people stand silent when someone does something bad? If you find yourself increasingly asking that question these days, you’re not alone—and Catherine Sanderson has written the book for you. Why We Act reviews the social psychological literature—from Milgram’s shocking findings onward—to explain why people who know better sometimes give wrongdoing a pass, and applies the field’s findings to everyday life, like bullying in schools, fraud and harassment in the workplace, and our current political life. A clear and engaging writer, Sanderson offers sound advice on how we can become better at doing what we know is right.
Bad things don’t happen only because of bad actors. They happen because good people choose to look the other way. In lucid prose, Sanderson explores why many avert their eyes in the face of immoral behavior, and offers strategies to help combat this pernicious tendency. Why We Act is an essential read for building a kinder and more ethical society.
Our world is filled with evidence of cowardice and corruption. Catherine Sanderson explains why, drawing on decades of groundbreaking research. Why We Act offers powerful advice about how each of us can protect our integrity and improve our institutions. This is an urgent and compelling book with a clear agenda for concerned citizens.
In this deeply researched, compulsively readable account, Sanderson offers a thoroughly persuasive analysis of why most people remain silent in situations where they—and we—know full well that their actions could prevent harm. More importantly, she provides a highly practical toolkit for cultivating empathy and learning to be a ‘moral rebel.’ A profound and timely contribution to the psychology of compassionate moral action in a heartless world.
This is a rich, powerful, and wide-ranging exploration of moral courage, of inaction and action. It shows what stops people from helping—and what leads them to help others. These are tremendously important issues. The focus on training, and how to influence bystanders to act, is especially valuable.
- 272 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
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