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Do The Right Thing!

Why is it so hard for people to do the right thing? Ralph spends the entire hour with Amherst professor of psychology, Dr. Catherine Sanderson, discussing her book “Why We Act: Turning Bystanders into Moral Rebels.”

Professor Catherine Sanderson is the Chair of Psychology at Amherst College. In 2012, she was named one of the country’s top 300 professors by the Princeton Review. She speaks regularly on the science of happiness, the power of emotional intelligence, and the psychology of courage and inaction. Dr. Sanderson gave a Tedx talk on the Psychology of Inaction, which is also the subject of her latest book titled Why We Act: Turning Bystanders Into Moral Rebels.

“Moral courage: The ability to stand up sometimes to members of your own group, your team, your colleagues, your political party, and to say, ‘I disagree, this isn’t right.’ And that imposes considerable risk to people, which is why many people stay silent. But we can all learn strategies to overcome the pressures that often lead us to be silent and fail to act.”

Dr. Catherine Sanderson, author of Why We Act: Turning Bystanders into Moral Rebels

“I think the pressures that lead people to be silent are actually detrimental. Because it can lead people to be so afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing, that they in fact stay silent. And in some cases that can really mean that people are not even given a chance to try to share their view, share their input and so on. When we become as a society so afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing, I also think that can be problematic.”

Dr. Catherine Sanderson, author of Why We Act: Turning Bystanders into Moral Rebels

“We need more whistleblowers. We need them to bring their conscience to work. We need them to come out and not be seen as snitches and disgruntled employees.”

Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader Radio Hour Ep 352 Transcript (Right click to download)


  1. Mark Hughes says:

    I have to disagree with Ralph on something he said during the introduction, which goes to the overall theme of this episode, and that is the biggest issue in democracy is the lack of civic engagement. Personally I think it’s the very existence of runaway capitalism, considering what’s always gone on in America, in every nook and cranny here and the world, this absolutely cannot be overlooked, underestimated nor ignored. It’s power against the people is immeasurable. The people’s power is incredibly minuscule compared to the power of its security arms, the police and military apparatuses, even more so against it itself. Compounding this is something that Norm Chomsky himself noted a long time ago, that America is too much of a bourgeoisie society for a popular revolution to take place, at least the kind that occurred in the old Czarist Russia and in revolutionary France.

    This is a little bit like victim blaming and I abhor that. Also, those who would be the strongest in revolting are too busy working to provide for their families. I know plenty of people who are apolitical because they are working 60 hours a week or so. There’s just no time. It’s not our fault that these pseudo-politicians pulled trillions of dollars out of their butts and gave it to the friends nine months ago. It’s not our fault that tens of millions of people got kicked out of their homes a decade ago and more will follow here in the next few months. It’s not our fault that police departments are becoming more overbearing across more communities. You can’t have a meaningful discussion about popular power without the discussion of capitalism.

    We didn’t design this mess; our slave-owning Founders did, with their delusions that you can have a democracy and slavery in a functioning society.

    Once again David hits the nail on the head with his question of whether or not the fear of losing one’s job and livelihood and healthcare impacts their moral courage, and the fact that Dr. Sanderson said there were no studies about that tells me the volumes. No one in power wants of studies like that done. And David follows up with another great question, that maybe that’s how our society is structured. And it is, because we’re a capitalist society. That’s what happens here.

    • Afdal Shahanshah says:

      The founders of the United States were never particularly interested in democracy. If you ever read Madison’s notes to the Philadelphia convention you’ll see practically every man there express suspicion, disdain, or outright hostility to the idea that the average person should be allowed to have a say in their government. With few exceptions like Thomas Paine (who was not invited to the convention), most of the founders just wanted a local aristocracy freed from the British to do as it pleased. Some like Hamilton even wanted an outright king. Naturally they chose the oligarchy of ancient Rome as their model for government rather than Athens.

    • stan moore says:

      What you may see as “victim blaming”, may be seen as constructive self-criticism by others, especially when articulated by some who literally dedicated his life for the people. None of us are above criticism. i may agree that our jobs, our livelihood, may ties us down, but never does it silence us. Where will you be, and therefore what side will you be on, say, if a “general strike” is called by the majority of Americans for a more just society? … About what Chomsky said, check out what he said in 2012 : “Noam Chomsky ‘Reform or Revolution’, ‘History of the Civil Rights Movement’ and ‘Terrorism'” (on YouTube). He even cited Karl Marx who, despite the popular rhetoric to the contrary, thought reform in a parliamentary society, such as England or America, can lead to a communist/socialist society. But the burden is up to us, that includes you and me.

  2. Bruce K. says:

    As the world’s human organizations and governments get bigger and more hierarchical and opaque this negative characteristic and others of human nature seem to amplify and get concentrated. These “mathematical” forces are easily perceived and understood by scientists and engineers, but the average person seems to just assume everything is steady-state, like we can keep putting CO2 in the air, or dumping poison in the water.

    The majority of people behave like the most maladjusted of malicious little children, and they are sprinkled through the entire society and there is nothing that seems to be done about it. In one way or another the human race has been though these collapses many times, but our worst natures seem to always dictate that the collapse takes with it the information and detailed experiences that we need to know to see a pattern and put an end to it.

    Or maybe there is just no way to end it because we do not have the self-control, and will not allow any other authority to tell us what to do …. classic case is today’s rebellion at wearing Personal Protective Equipment to mitigate Covid-19. And in the name of freedom too … how misguided can people be?

    This is like the whole planet thinking we are colliding with an ice cube that turns out to be a killer asteroid sized iceberg … if I may be allowed to mix my metaphors. I don’t see us growing up any times soon.

    As one of my favorite musicians puts it … excerpt of “The Browning Of The Green” ( Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull )

    Exponential family planning:
    let me play the numbers game,
    sign up for some benefits, get my
    dues and stake a claim.
    Spill out to suburbia then spread
    onwards to the country wide
    and when the last plot’s taken, I’ll
    spill out on to the other side.

    It’s the browning of the green: we’ll
    be tight as canned sardine.
    Lemmings to the right and the left of
    us and all points in between…
    It’s the browning of the green.

    Be fruitful: nothing to it. Fill the
    earth, subdue it, multiply.
    It’s written in that Goodly Book. So,
    it’s really best that I comply.
    Another baby-booming bloomer?
    Imbecile fecundity?
    Another mouth, but what the Hell?
    Child benefits, they come for free.

    • Natalie says:


    • Demetrio says:

      I’ll take capitalism over socialism/communism any day.

      • Bruce K. says:

        When any two countries trade … what system do you think they use? Capitalism. They have money that is pegged to some common standard and they trade. When any two people trade or barter … what system do you think they use? Capitalism of course.

        Capitalism is the substrate of economic interchange throughout the world — PERIOD. ( at this point I would recommend anyone read “The End Of the MegaMachine” by Fabian Sheidler” that is a amazingly thorough but condensed version of civilized human history and how it evolved )

        Early in history it was not called Capitalism and it was based on power and exploitation. The insinuation of money was so that the Crown, or the government could collect taxes. Once money was out there and there was not other place for people to go they were captured into an economy – and ruthless dog-eat-dog system with might makes right rules.

        Democracy evolved from the people banding together and demanding rights …. REGULATIONS and PROTECTIONS that before had only been given to the rich and powerful and only through force. Somehow people got brainwashed to equate Capitalism with Democracy – but it ain’t so, in fact it is the opposite.

        “SOCIALISM” is just a word that has been given such terrible connotations because it is DEMOCRACY, plain and simple. Socialism is democracy. It is a way to codify and legally enforce what would just be a jungle of rich and powerful people trodding over those whose lineage was outside the hand down of vast wealth or are people who have privilege because they are necessary to the rich and powerful.

        The framing of these words is so Orwellian because it keeps people from seeing what is a very simple reality by twisting the definition of capitalism, socialism and democracy in a very heinous and explosive way to continue a barbaric system of exploration not much better for most than the genocide of native Americans or the enslavement of black Africans.

        Now from the Republican party, but moreover from the big money Libertarian backers of both Republican and Democratic player who front for our government, we have vignettes of government corruption and uselessness to convince us that our ( the people’s ) one hope of liberation, government and democracy, is bad and useless. Why now at this time? Because people are starting awaken to what has been going on and the fact that the reasons given for it are a big crock of nonsense.

        All of this adds up to when people say they love capitalism and hate socialism is merely means they are either ignorance, confused or just plain playing their part in a major rip off of people’s lives and the resources of this planet in which we should all share and have a part.

        Lots missing here because I am squeezing 20,000+ years of human existence into a page of text.

  3. Gabe says:

    One anecdote surrounding Mitt Romney happened while Bain was bleeding Ampad. When an employee wrote a letter to Romney begging him to save his factory, Romney wrote back he was sorry, but his attorneys advise that he not get involved. It really did not take much more courage to stand up to Trump, as a Senator safe in UT, and when everyone knew he was to be acquitted. But, as usual, Romney made out for himself pretty well… Romney and Trump are two heads of more or less the same overleveraged hydra, residing in the shady world of white collar corporate crime. I have appreciated Ralph Nader as one of a few who have seriously stood up to this behemoth. When you consider the amount of damage this world has done to so vast a number of people, and at vast sums of billions and trillions of wasted dollars, I can understand why he is irked by the (not unimportant but comparably puny) issues surrounding political correctness – one of many current forms of distractions.

  4. Donald Klepack says:

    Why we act is a great title and I plan to buy the book. My question to Ralph, Steve and David, why did you Not bring up the subject of hate speech in college which now means anything that the college disagrees with. The other issue, why isn’t Julian Assange who I consider the most important WhistleBlower in the 21st century not discussed.

  5. David Faubion says:

    This episode is yet another of The Ralph Nader Radio Hour’s needle-maxing, blockbusting pods. Thanks to the RNRH producers and staff (including the little-known, parting interns:). Dr. Sanderson’s timely, “Why We Act: Turning Bystanders into Moral Rebels: cries out as a must-read by an educator and psychologist — who is not a behaviorist bent over backward to 1. appease power, and 2. screw up your mind/life even more noxiously for all involved to loath and avoid.
    Self-help (narrowly so-called) psychology books give me the self-therapeutic so that I can at least function in society without chemical straight jackets. One of the best messages (even in its book title) of the genre is the late Sheldon Kopp’s, “If You Meet the Buddha on the Road Kill Him!” * It is a direct quote from the discipline of Buddhism itself. Thus, that bizarre title means that nearly all of us can heal and grow sans a shrink, therapist, guru, or a hero: Each of us can liberate ourselves; although a good role model or two, i.e. parents and educators, can open doors and point us in the direction; yet by and large we each have the light, the germinal care and will, and a simple intelligence (light) to free ourselves from the burdens that the world can imposes upon our minds. We dig deeper into our past, present, and future to find more immaterial treasures! The classical Greek poets may have invented democracy and did articulate it as our social voice, as an art, and as a core principle of social science. Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides created the Greek Chorus—the public body who spoke (sang in unison via an arbitrary chorus leader) at times directly to the tragic figure (ironically or not called the hero). Thus, I believe in situations like the bully on the bus harassing the child of China via her immigrant status—we might best stop that dangerous behavior by literally speaking with one voice. And the anti-racist, nativist, and nationalist memes on our worldwide network need to become the communal parlance of our social speech. Chants of “Stop your racist hate-speech, PLEASE”; “We were all immigrants, yeah you too!” “In our genetics, we are all part Chinese and all other ethnicities” and “In the global world, we are one people—the pandemic proves it.” To make this happen, a movement of chorus leaders and participants would need to emerge. In classical Greece that democracy movement was lead by their revered dramatic poets, the tragedians. Recently—even presently— the closest movement toward a vital social voice of resistance—as equally an individual’s voice— is the movement, from the 1970’s extant, called “The Theater of the Oppressed” TOTO (my acronym) lead by the late Brazilian Augusto Boal who wrote the book by that title, and whose ongoing public practice of our voices —as unison and via individuals— led him to be elected to the City Council of Rio from 1993-97 at which point he developed the legislative theater, a hit in e.g. Europe and NYC. His entire panoply of psycho-social and political-economic theater healing treatments as scripted exercises have come into practice worldwide. I have never had to chance to participate in a TOTO, aside from my imagination, but that I would love and drop everything to join (lord knows I need it). A most foreboding warning on Dr Sanderson’s call for a vigorous, courageous resistance to hate is the Portland train attack (May 26, 2017) in which three proactive bystanders (all males) got involved with a racist hate attack; two of them died tragically, and a third survived serious wounds. How could that absurd man-made disaster have been averted—even by a deafening chorus of booing—even by swarming onto the hateful afflicted—even by a fire extinguisher? (well that last one has some wings, eh?) We live in the crowded theater we call the world, whirling around so fast we seem not to have the time for each other, for ourselves and progenies. We decide, we choose life over death each moment.

    * Ironically or not, the author Sheldon Kopp was also a psychotherapist and teacher of psychotherapy.

    BTW, David, Steve, Ralph and your web techs: please configure the RHNH comment forum so that users can add posts that reflect the current state of language formatting, not that of the 14th century.

  6. David Faubion says:

    Please never mind my request as I now see that others have learned how to make paragraphs.

    Please tell me how to format paragraphs, or allow me to post trail balloons.

    Please don’t approve my big screed of the week as my criticism will surely undermine my credibility.

    Thank you

  7. Afdal Shahanshah says:

    Sometimes I wonder if the real role of academics like Dr. Sanderson is to justify the existence of the system by removing material elements of survival like David pointed out from their analyses and narrowing the focus of behavior to individual responsibility. Is there any role for class interests in psychology?

  8. Erica Etelson says:

    I was surprised to hear Dr. Sanderson say that the Lincoln Project ads were successful. If there’s some data on that (ideally data compiled by a third party, not by the Lincoln Project), I’d love to take a look at that — thanks!

  9. Catherine says:

    Dr. Catherine Sanderson has nothing new to say. If you listen carefully, she also did not answer most of Ralph Nader’s questions. If you want to understand how the will works and how people make decisions, I highly recommend “The Act of Will” by Roberto Assagioli. In this book he describes the four aspects of will: strong, skillful, good and transpersonal. He also thoroughly explains the 6 steps to making any decision: Purpose, Deliberation, Choice, Affirmation, Planning, and Execution. Usually one aspect of the will is missing or weak, and one or more steps in the decision-making process is missing or weak. The fundamental problem is most of us don’t know what we really want, so we are incapable of making clear and conscious choices.

  10. Don Harris says:

    In your recent blog post you said the first step to breaking the big money chains on Congress by the corporations was to have clean and fair elections and electoral districts that stop the buying and renting of politicians.

    I’m afraid you have it backwards.

    The first step to have clean and fair elections and electoral districts that stop the buying and renting of politicians is to break the big money chains on Congress.

    To achieve clean and fair elections will require legislation.

    The big money politicians will only pass legislation designed to benefit the big money interests. The big money interests have no interest in clean and fair elections or eliminating the influence of big money on the big money politicians.

    In order to pass legislation to achieve clean and fair elections and eliminate the influence of big money on politiicians the first step has to be replacing the big money legislators with small donor legislators.

    The problem has to be solved before legislation to solve the problem can be passed.

    One way to achieve this goal without legislation is to form Citizen Watchdog groups that will pressure politicians to run small donor campaigns.

    When a politician takes big money they are telling you up front that they will not be representing ordinary citizens. These watchdog groups will consist of citizens that will declare they will only vote for small donor candidates in 2022 as these are the candidates that are telling us up front they will be representing ordinary citizens.

    You ask in your blog why tens of millions of Americans don’t form such a group.

    One reason may be because you have not encouraged them to go to and sign up to participate in the citizen watchdog group that enables citizens to make the demand that candidates run small donor campaigns and enforce that demand with their votes.

    Wouldn’t that fall under the category of doing the right thing?