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Why it is OK to teach our kids to disobey?

Wednesday 11 Jul 2018

Electrocution could help make the world a better place!

Firstly, answer this question:

Which of the following would you choose?

  1. electrocuting a puppy
  2. electrocuting your worst enemy
  3. electrocuting a stranger
  4. electrocuting yourself
  5. just a small electric shock to your partner

Read on to find the answer…

We teach our children to obey.

We need them to learn to obey authority figures for their safety, but in 1963 a young Psychologist; Stanley Milgram, showed the world that we, as parents, should think carefully on how we do this.

Milgram, working at Yale, wanted to investigate the atrocities of Nazi Germany; to be specific, he wanted to investigate if the Germans were more obedient. Would, for example, ordinary American citizens also be able to cause harm to another human, just on instructions from an authority figure? He designed a simple experiment to test this, involving an elderly man with a heart problem, a group of naive participants and a machine that gave electric shocks from 15v to 450v.

So, ask yourself this. Could you shock an elderly man with a heart problem, listen to him begging you to stop and then continue to keep shocking him until he passed out? No, of course you couldn’t. Or could you? Interestingly, less than 1% of Milgram’s colleagues thought participants would actually administer the maximum shocks. After all it’s enough to kill someone and you wouldn’t do this because you know what’s right and wrong and you’re a nice person, right? Only psychopaths would really harm others, right?

Wrong! The participants were not psychopaths or malicious, just ordinary males from a wide range of backgrounds, but 65% of them continued to administer shocks all the way to the maximum 450v, despite the elderly man’s screams and protests. At the higher end of the shocks the elderly gent; a Mr Wallace, eventually went silent, implying that he had, at best, passed out, or at worst, something more terrible had occurred. Of course, Mr Wallace was an actor and although small shocks had been sampled by the participants, for the purposes of convincing them of the procedure, unbeknown to them, Mr Wallace had made a recording of his staged responses that they heard in their individual experiments and they eventually found out it was a set up.

Their reactions whilst dishing out the shocks to Mr Wallace? Most were clearly distressed at their participation and many protested and initially attempted to withdraw from the experiment, but still 65% of them continued to shock up to the maximum level.

Why? These men could have walked away at any point: they only had a man in a lab coat prompting them to continue when they tried to pull out, but no-one held a gun to their head, no one had a loved one held hostage. So why continue?

Milgram went on to demonstrate a number of factors that were likely to increase & decrease that obedience. @PhilZimbardo, another young psychologist at the time, developed this work with his infamous prison simulation experiment and continues to tour today on the Psychology of evil @TED. We only have to look at events around the world, since WW2, for us to realise that real crimes in the name of obedience will continue to exist, which is where teaching disobedience comes into play. As parents and teachers we need to teach our children that sometimes it is necessary to disobey. Tell them that we should think about the motives of any authority’s commands & although obedience is usually a good thing, it is also good to question what is being demanded. When it results in harm it is essential to defy. So, the answer to the original question, of course, should be that you should refuse to do any of the above! Blindly obeying can be a very dangerous thing!


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