No English? No Problem!

Monday, November 28, 2005

Note: The original source for the following post is my bloglines blog, but I think it's something that we should all be seriously concerned about, so you guys should see it as well.

Use Your Brain, PLEASE!

A common complain in Singapore is that people here tend to be followers, that they just blindly do whatever the gahmen tells them to do, and don't think enough for themselves.

Well, guess what? Apparently this is not a trait that is exclusive to Singaporeans alone. According to the research of Stanley Milgram, a controversial social psychologist, this innate need to obey authority is within all of us, and can make us do the most unethical of actions.

For example, in an experiment he found that two-thirds of people will generally give electric shocks to protesting victims under the command of an authority. And under pressure from this authority, people will generally buckle down and do whatever that authority tells them to do, no matter how heinous the act.

This may sound fantastic, but this could explain the hoax that affected a number of fast food restaurants in America last year. [Read a more detailed report of the case here]

What happened was that a mysterious caller called fast food restaurants, identifying himself as a police officer, and instructed the managers there to strip search and perform other perverse sexual acts on their employees. And the shocking thing is that many managers did exactly what the caller asked them to do, despite lack of identification whatsoever.

One of the most horrifying cases concerned 18-year old Louise Ogborn, who had been abused by the assistant manager and her fiancee over a shocking 4 hour period, because a voice on the phone told them that it had been cleared by 'corporate'.

Obviously, the girl is now pretty much traumatized for life, and there are lawsuits flying swiftly from each party to the other, but one of the most shocking aspects of the case is that never once did the asst manager or the fiancee ever think that this could be wrong, and refuse to follow instructions.

In fact, the only way the girl got saved, was through a 58-year old janitor, who refused to play along with the caller's game, and hung up. And the moment he did, a spell seemed to break, and the asst manager finally realised the severity of her act.

What is utterly amazing to me is that the need to follow instructions from a higher authority is apparently so strong within us, that we are actually capable of following such orders. The asst manager must have had some high school education or another, and even she didn't even stop to think that this could be morally wrong. And it took a janitor to stop the act?

Just how unthinking, or unwilling to think are we as a human being?

And if one day, someone commanded you to do something that was wrong, would you have the courage to say, "No"?

Most people apparently would not. In the electric shock experiment mentioned above, only about one third of the experiment participants refused to do it. So most of us would pretty much do whatever a higher authority tells us to do.

I wonder whether this tendency could be stronger in Singapore. Because here, we are raised with the Confucian ethic to respect and obey thy parents, and this moral of filial piety is pretty much repeated in most religions here. And because we are raised to obey parents when we are children, we are also conditioned to obey our leaders when we are adults ourselves.

But most people forget another aspect of this philosophy as well. Which is that although you have the right to command obedience from your children/followers, Confucianism also demands that you MUST be a wise leader as well. In other words, you have to be deserving of the obedience that you demand. It doesn't advocate blind obedience.

I suppose, though, that it's convenient to forget this part when you want someone to do something for you.

So the next time you are commanded to do something you don't agree with, I hope you remember this case, and the case of Louise Ogborn.

Just because someone asks you to do something, doesn't mean it's right. Before you blindly go along and do it, ask yourself whether you'll be able to live with it.

No comments: