I recently found my grammar school autograph book, from 1966. In it is a page called “my favorites.” For ‘hero,’ I put ‘Mickey Mantle.’ For ‘College’: ‘Brooklyn College.’ For profession, I put ‘Psychologist.’ I was 12. My heroes have changed since then and I went to Princeton. But I am glad to say that I never changed my mind about my chosen profession. I am proud to be a psychologist.
I come from a family of Jewish refugees. My mother was the only member of her immediate family who survived Auschwitz. She told me a story about the first round-up of Jews in her small town when she was fourteen. The Nazis pushed all the Jews into a small circle and beat those on the outside with clubs. My mother observed that some of the Jews tried to protect the weak, the elderly and the young, while others pushed the weaker ones to the outside. She said, “I knew from that moment that to be human would not always come naturally. I knew I would have to make an effort to be a human being.”
One reason I decided so early to be a psychologist was to make sense out of my family history. How could people do such things? What are the consequences to victim and perpetrator? How do we help people who suffer from prejudice and violence? How do we better promote human rights? I turned to psychology to understand and support the effort to “be a human being” under extreme adversity [...]