People fascinate me – the way they think, the way they act/re-act and the way they justify their actions to themselves and others!
I was reminded of this, the other evening, when I, on Discovery Channel, watched a fascinating program called “Curiosity – How evil are you?” A program built up around the Milgram Shock Generator Experiment from 1961.
For those who don’t know the Milgram experiment I can say that; it was an experiment designed to test people’s level of obedience to authority. The true subject of the experiment was the ‘teacher’, who was totally unaware that it was his or her actions which were being observed, and not the ‘learners’.
In short you have to imagine; one room where the ‘learner’ is strapped to a chair and fitted with wires, and then a separate room where the ‘teacher’ is placed in front of a generator, which he/she doesn’t know is fake. There is a long row of switches on the front of the generator, indicating from 15V – 450V, and every time the ‘learner’ gets a question wrong, the ‘teacher’ is asked to administer increasing amounts of voltage, under the supervision of the ‘scientist’. There is no visual contact between the two rooms (apart from when the ‘teacher’ watches the ‘learner’ being restrained in the chair), but they can hear each other through a sound system.
The big question is, of course, how will the ‘teacher’ react – will they administer electric shocks – and if yes – how far will they go?
In these experiments – 50 years after Milgrim carried them out for the first time – the results are still very very disturbing. (Even if you would have hoped that people had evolved since then)
Only one person, when told what they are expected to do, says “No, I will not do that!” right away. The rest continue to increase the voltage (despite obviously being uncomfortable doing so), just because the ‘scientist’ tells them; “It is essential for the experiment that you continue!!!”
Even worse – quite a few go past the point, where the ‘learner’ shouts out in pain and requests that the experiment stops, because the electric shocks are starting to hurt his heart. (It has to be added that the ‘scientist’, as well as urging them to continue, does inform the ‘teacher’ that it cannot kill the ‘learner’)
As an extension to the original experiment – new tests were carried out where another ‘teacher’ (another actor) joined in with the unwitting ‘teacher’. The actor had to administer the electric shocks – and had to make a stand and terminate his involvement when the ‘learner’ pleads for the experiment to be discontinued.
The question was: How would this impact the ‘teacher’ actions?
Well interestingly enough – the impact was huge!
Suddenly all the ‘teachers’ simply watched as the electric shocks were being administered, without questioning it (no-one stopped it) – but just as interesting; were the effects of the actors withdrawal, suddenly all the ‘teachers’ also had the courage say stop.
This program and the ‘teacher’s’ reaction, when they realised what they potentially could have done, has been on my mind ever since I watched it.
I could write page up and page down on my thoughts and I won’t.
I would much rather that you thought about and pondered, what you think, you would have done under those circumstances…
• How far would you have gone?
• Even if it felt wrong – would you still continue, just because someone (in a ‘white coat’) told you to?
• Would you have the courage to say stop?
And on a bigger picture…
• Who do you put on a pedestal and what impact does that have on your actions/re-actions?
• What has you compromise your integrity?
• How often do you think about the fact, that being courageous enough to go against the tide – when something is ‘just not right’ – could and will inspire others to do the same?