Zimbardo’s Systemic Engagement Program

I am sharing a statement about a new dynamic educational program that I have created, along with my colleagues at Palo Alto University, which can have a meaningful impact on your mental and physical well-being, as well as enhancing your professional career. This program is also meant for individuals and organizations, both private and public, who are interested in personal resilience as well as participation in diversity and inclusion training.  

Before describing what is special about this new way of introducing social and cognitive psychology action principles, within an attractive video format, I want to first acknowledge two current realities: the global pandemic and the Black Lives Matter recent protests.

These realities are confronting all of us with multiple challenges which are simultaneously demanding, novel, complex and life- changing.

Our Covid-19 Pandemic

Earlier this year, people everywhere were confronted by the emerging Covid-19 pandemic, resulting thus far in hundreds of thousands of deaths globally, economic disasters, and deteriorating mental health for many individuals and families. As we engage these realities, and their associated demands of staying sheltered at home while constantly practicing socially distancing, we are reminded of our own humanity, our need to be connected with our community, and the crucial importance of being personally resilient.

The current pandemic forces us to recognize our critical need for social connection, compassion and personal nurturance, as well as new forms of coping with uncertainty and distorted time perspectives with a nebulous future orientation.

Additional emerging lessons from this novel virus have to do with recognizing the deficiencies of our social, medical, community and political systems. As the pandemic blasted our nation, we discovered how ill prepared we were to respond to the instant and constant medical needs of so many citizens, and that our hospitals lacked basic supplies and sufficient skilled staff. An effective, coordinated disaster management in cities and states around the nation was totally absent or at best partial, and rarely engaged in forward-looking integrated strategies. Nations that did so, like New Zealand and Iceland succeeded in suppressing the pandemic in their citizens.

To make matters worse was the absence of forceful, intelligent leadership from our nation’s President and his cabinet. Instead we had to make sense of endlessly incoherent, misleading or wrong advice, and specious reassurances that everything would soon be fine. That nonsense and lack of any coordinated plans at all levels of government fueled the spread of this deadly scourge.

It is not surprising to any thoughtful citizen that this widespread emergent chaos acted as a catalyst for exposing even more severe, long dormant manifestations of social inequality and fundamental injustice--with more COVID-19 deaths showing up among the poor, and our Hispanic and Black citizens.

The Black Lives Matter Societal Movement

Over the past month, we have witnessed the expose of ever-deepening gaps of inequity between American citizens from different racial, cultural, and economic backgrounds. This has been revealed through the unfair allocation of community resources, with excesses to police departments, while schools and community resources suffer with deficits. The recent public exposure of extreme, arbitrary forms of police brutality against innocent Black civilians has been alarming to many average non-Black citizens who were never before concerned with such issues.

However, the spotlight of evil in our policing system has never shone as brightly as it did by revealing the conditions surrounding the brutal murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This profoundly hideous act by four Minneapolis police against an innocent Black civilian was captured for eternal viewing by a teenaged passerby heroine, Darnella Frazier.

The current racial justice uprising of protest marches and demonstrations across America, now spreading globally, must be an invitation for a cultural awakening towards reconstructing many of our inadequate systems that have misfunctioned for decades and centuries in America– that benefit privileged social groups and disadvantage and harm Black People and all minorities.

I want to share a visionary statement from Angela Davis, professor emerita at University of California, Santa Cruz:

“This is an extraordinary moment. I have never experienced anything like the conditions we are currently experiencing, the conjuncture created by the COVID-19 pandemic and the recognition of the systemic racism that has been rendered visible under these conditions because of the disproportionate deaths in Black and Latinx communities. And this is a moment I don’t know whether I ever expected to experience.”

Much scientific research clearly demonstrates that effective outcomes are achieved by addressing the situational/ structural determinants that create and maintain “bad barrels” which are the corrupting environment for transforming once good apples into bad apples. The analogy with once “good cops” becoming “bad cops” following their militarily style brutalizing training is obvious.

Our goal is to replace those corrupting barrels with newly designed ones that uplift what is best in our shared human nature. Redesigning all police training programs to create police who service their designated communities with honor, and thus are valued by citizens. The central rallying call coming from this movement is to Defund the Police. Essentially it means reducing over-inflated police budgets, then allocating those excess funds to a variety of essential community resources. For more information on this topic, visit this source:

Finally, it is time for new constructive realities to be created. If we are to improve upon these painful realities it is incumbent upon us to collaborate in engaging new effective systems. We need to learn what we can about the structure of our individual and social systems and then respond with effective tools that can yield personal resilience and collective equality.

Zimbardo Systemic Engagement Program

For these reasons and more, we have created the Zimbardo Systemic Engagement program which is being delivered through Palo Alto University’s Division of Continuing & Professional Studies.

We begin with an introduction to the skills of personal and collective resilience. First up is teaching ways of being present with others, employing proven methods of empathically listening to others that helps to create supportive social connections. We then build on that towards recognizing our own mind’s tendency to be fixed and self-critical. Then, we teach the skills needed to switch towards cultivating a flexible Growth Mindset. Doing so supports us in strengthening our mental stability and our belief in our own ability to be effective in whatever tasks we engage.

Across our eight (8) video-based lessons are also excursions into:

  • Situational Awareness

  • Social Conformity

  • Confronting the Bystander Effect

  • Challenging Prejudice and Discrimination

  • Misattributions and Stereotype Threat

Cultivating these profound skills of resilience is always crucial, and even more so currently during these challenging times. When we engage systems, we invite new connections with meaning and personal values, which in turn, focuses us towards values-congruent behavior. The Zimbardo Systemic Engagement program does exactly that. We train in clarifying and acting on our own values, which is another powerful resilience- building practice.

Building on these values, we learn about social issues by recognizing the science of situational power and how inequality, prejudice, discrimination and racism emerge in systems. We practice ways to successfully engage such dominant systems, possible obstacles to doing so, and effective methods to address and overcome obstacles. Our critical thinking skills exercises transforms such obstacles into challenges and then into effective solutions.

We offer clear, applied, action-oriented, science-based training. This work is driven by our mission of cultivating resilience, social justice, systemic diversity and inclusion. It can support individuals and organizations, as well as to award continuing education units to those in the helping professions.

We invite you and your community members to train together in this new, exciting Zimbardo Systemic Engagement initiative! Please visit:

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