THE BROKEN WINDOWS THEORY
Philip Zimbardo, a social psychologist at Stanford University, conducted, in 1969, an interesting experiment that ended up making up a theory through the work of James Wilson and George Kelling. It was called “The Broken Windows Theory”. And it is so worthy knowing, as it can apply and cover large areas of our life.
Let’s go back to 1969. The experiment consisted of leaving a car in the Bronx, the wasted one from that time: poor, dangerous, controversial and full of crime. Zimbardo stopped the vehicle there, with torn registration plates and open doors to just observe what would happen. It happened just after ten minutes, that the car started to be robbed. After three days there was nothing of value in the car and from that time on the car was just wrecked totally.
But the experiment did not end there. There was a second part consisting of leaving another identical and in similar conditions vehicle, but in this case it went to a very rich and quiet area: Palo Alto, California. For a week, nothing happened to the vehicle. But Zimbardo decided to intervene, so he took a hammer and hit some parts of the vehicle, including one of its windows, which broke. Thus, the car went from being in perfect condition to showing signs of abuse and neglect. And then, the hypothesis was confirmed by Zimbardo. What happened? From the moment the car looked in disrepair, residents of Palo Alto were primed with the vehicle at the same speed that had the people of the Bronx done.
What the Broken Windows Theory means is simple: if in a building a broken window is not fixed soon, immediately other windows will end up being destroyed by vandals. Why? Because the message which is being transmitted is: here nobody cares about this, this is abandoned.
The interpretation of this theory can be extrapolated to many areas of everyday life. If someone painted on the wall of your house and you would not repaint after, it shall become a wall full of graffiti in a few days. If the referee allows a small breach in the match, it’s likely for more and more violent actions to be appearing until it forms a brawl. If you start yourself telling white and little lies, you will believe them and will end up generating more. If you tolerate the invoice without VAT or evade taxes, then do not complain if there are no funds to pay your unemployment or your father’s pension. If you download contents illegally, then do not ask anyone to give any value to your creative work and claim it a good salary. If you do not watch your relationship with your partner and start avoiding the little details, you are sowing opportunities that can accelerate deterioration. And the list is endless. In short, if you allow vices and do not repair them soon, then do not be surprised if you find yourself in the middle of a quagmire in which you have been part actively or passively. The snowball out of neglect, abuse, injustice, laziness or lying tends to grow rapidly when external signs show it and are not repaired quickly. The not so immediate repair of damage issues a message to society: impunity is allowed, we all can burn it all down. If the message about any action which respects and cares for what we have is not transmitted, and we let deterioration, abandonment or resignation win the game, then the entropy, disorder, damage, incivility, abuse, bullying or any form of infamy and degradation tend to spread quickly. In conclusion, if we want to avoid it, let’s fix the broken window as soon as possible.
Immanuel Kant expressed this principle in what he called the “Categorical Imperative”: work so you can only hope that the maximum of your action becomes a universal law. Put it in another way: would you want people around you broke, robbed, defrauded or were ripping alien heritage? Obviously, not. So be aware not only not to break any physical or emotional window of others, but to repair them as soon as possible to avoid darker evils. For as we can be the cause of the spreading damage and make it grow, we can also cause collective redress, and that’s not a utopia.