Milgram’s experiment has become a classic in psychology, demonstrating the dangers of obedience.
Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority (Milgram, 1974).”
Milgram’s experiments were inspired initially by the defense of the German Nazi, Adolph Eichmann, that he was simply following instructions when he ordered the deaths of millions of Jews at the post World War II trial.
More recently in the US, a hoax caller pretending to be a police officer requesting the manager’s cooperation with an apparent investigation of a staff member accused of stealing, managed to convince managers to strip search and humiliate their staff.
We are conditioning children to believe that this is what’s normal and acceptable.
A teenage victim in response to why she complied despite her distress said: “My parents taught me when an adult tells you to do something that’s what you do. You don’t argue, you listen.” Her boss who conducted the strip search when interviewed said: “I’m thinking ‘okay I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing here’”. She’s not alone in holding the unchallenged belief that following the instructions of an authority figure is a definition of “doing what I’m supposed to do”.
Deeply Ingrained Conditioning
The first relationships create the template for future relationships
However we treat our children, we are conditioning them to believe that this is what’s normal and acceptable in relationships. The above examples stand out as being particularly shocking, yet the bully-victim relationship commonly plays out in homes, schools, workplaces, in politics and between countries. Until the authoritarian punishment-based system is understood to be dysfunctional at best and often dangerous, it continues to be the elephant in the room as Individuals compete and blame each other.
People of all ages whose actions negatively impact another generally know that it doesn’t feel good, doesn’t feel right. It’s so hard for individuals, for parents at home with their children, to break away from this cycle, especially if it was the “normal” that they grew up in. Yet early childhood conditioning operates automatically unless we put a lot of hard work into exploring, re-evaluating and challenging the beliefs that no longer serve us.
If a parent regularly yells at a child, can they truly expect their child not to be an adult who tolerates such treatment by their partner or boss?