From The Editors: Fall/Winter 2006-07

By Dacher Keltner, Jason Marsh | September 1, 2006 | 0 comments

For nearly three years, the research center that publishes this magazine—the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley (formerly the Center for the Development of Peace and Well-Being)—has stood at the cutting edge of a new scientific movement to understand the roots of human happiness, compassion, and virtue.  The findings produced by this movement have grown exponentially—and now we’ll be doing the same. 

Starting with our next issue, to come out in June, we’ll be expanding Greater Good from a semi-annual to a quarterly magazine. This will enable us to offer twice as much coverage of ground breaking scientific research, twice as many stories of compassion in action, and twice as many practical tools for building strong, healthy relationships in families, classrooms, and communities.

We’ll also be growing our staff. Already we’ve hired two leaders in the field of independent publishing, managing editor Jeremy Adam Smith and circulation director Tom White, who will help us elevate all aspects of Greater Good, from our cover stories to our customer service.

We owe much of our expansion to generous grants from the Herb Alpert Foundation and from Tom and Ruth Ann Hornaday.  Their support has not only endowed us with the resources necessary to shift to a quarterly publication schedule, but has also provided a strong endorsement of our mission and work so far. For these gifts we are profoundly grateful.

But of course, we’re also indebted to you, our readers, for all of your support. Your emails, phone calls, and letters in praise of Greater Good have invigorated us over these past few years. We’ve been inspired by countless stories of how you’ve applied Greater Good articles to your own professional and personal lives—in schools, counseling sessions, or relationships with loved ones. And we’re eager for the magazine to delve further with you into complicated questions of what it means to lead a good, ethical life.

We’re continuing that tradition in this issue. While many of our previous articles have focused on the roots of altruistic behavior, here we explore why we so often fail to come to the aid of other people in need. To understand our inaction, we have to understand the psychology of the bystander. 

We’ve all been bystanders—indeed, the contributors to this issue show how bystander inaction lies at the heart of a wide range of social problems, from school bullying and homelessness to ethnic violence and even genocide. But our contributors also show how we can transcend the passivity of the bystander, acting on our moral instincts rather than remaining helpless before the crises, big and small, that confront us every day. 

Reading these essays cannot guarantee that you’ll spring to action the next time you see a pedestrian collapse on the sidewalk or hear a neighbor’s calls of distress. The inhibitions to action can be overwhelming, and sometimes justified. Some of the essays—such as journalist Ted Jackson’s photo essay on his experiences in Hurricane Katrina—actually explain how remaining a bystander can sometimes be the most appropriate response to a crisis. 

But these essays also provide scientific insight into why we so readily, and at times unconsciously, assume the role of the bystander. In the process, they help to displace the shame and confusion we sometimes feel when we don’t demonstrate the courage of our convictions. They don’t excuse bystander behavior but reveal its causes—a vital first step toward becoming what contributors to this issue call an “active bystander,” “upstander,” or even “hero.”

Just as it takes practice to cultivate some of the other behaviors and emotions we’ve examined in Greater Good—forgiveness, compassion, empathy—we may have to work to overcome our tendency to be a bystander. But as Zeno Franco and Philip Zimbardo argue in their essay, our capacity for heroism is as natural to us as our inclinations toward apathy; nurturing heroism requires education, inspiration, and opportunities for reflection. We hope this issue of Greater Good provides all three.

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About The Author

Dacher Keltner, Ph.D., is the founding director of the Greater Good Science Center and a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence and Born to Be Good, and a co-editor of The Compassionate Instinct.


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