Hey You! (Introduction)
Today, you and I are going to tackle the little issue of putting your dreams on hold (or even getting rid of them entirely!) because of what other people are saying about them. Are you ready? Let’s go!
Have you ever heard of the scientific experiment that was conducted back in the ’60s to find insights into the Holocaust? The question was: how do you get someone to violate their moral code and deliberately hurt another person? The answer: make yourself into an authority figure in their eyes, and then ask them to do whatever you’d like. Often, a white lab coat is all you need.
A test subject was told by the lab technician in a white coat that they had to teach another person a series of words. Each time their pupil got a word wrong, the test subject had to give them an electric shock, which would become increasingly stronger by 15 volt increments. It maxed out 450 volts. (Which could easily kill someone.) The experiment went on until the test subject either asked at least 4 times to stop the show (the first three times, they would be told to keep going), or gave 450 volt shocks 3 times in a row.
It was conducted by Stanely Milgram, and he wrote of his findings in the book Obedience to Authority. I bought a copy, and it’s taught me a lot about myself.
Replace the pupil with the person you want to be…
the test subject with the person you currently are…
the lab technician with everyone who tries to stop you from going after your dreams…
and you’ve recreated real life.
People will obey authority in almost every circumstance if:
- They feel afraid of/inferior to the authority figure, or
- They have a desire to be cooperative.
When human beings are directed by “authority figures,” they will forfeit their autonomy again and again, even if what they’re being ordered to do seems wrong to them.
Only in cases where a person felt more obligation to their moral code than to the authority of the man in the white coat, did they stop electrocuting the person attached to the wires. Woah!
What I get out of this:
Lesson #1: Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear can quite literally destroy a person. Did you ever want to fit in with the cool kids in high school, or know someone who wanted to, even if what the cool kids were doing didn’t seem all that great? Smoking isn’t all that great, and neither is drinking so much you black out, or sleeping with people you’re not that interested in. Appealing to inappropriate authority is what drives that desire to comply.
When you destroy who you are and what you believe in so that you can do what everyone else is doing, chances are, you’ll end up getting what everyone else is getting. The problem of course, is when that (what everyone else wants) is not what you really want for yourself.
Lesson #2: Conflict is a good thing.
If you have a concept of conflict as being a bad thing, it may be time to rethink your world view. I’m not saying that your own inner compass is infallible. But no one can know what your heart really wants as well as you could. The balance between your needs and the needs of the world is where conflict happens. But you are just as entitled to your needs and desires as everyone else. If you’re still uncomfortable with using the word conflict, try replacing it with the idea of negotiation. Negotiation is sexy. Negotiation is where you strike a balance between “Others” and ‘Myself”. Negotiation is where you realise that at the end of the day, the only person who will always be with you, no matter what, is you. Honour the sexy beast that looks back at you when you’re standing in front of the mirror.
Lesson#3: Be Mindful of your “Friends”.
There is a difference between being influenced by someone you’re in a relationship with (personal, professional, whatever) and being controlled by the other person in a relationship. When you feel like you can’t say no, that’s when you’ve given up your control.
It’s silly to expect everyone who likes you to agree with you 100% of the time. But when your friends are the first ones to say something cruel about your desire to make art, or point out what’s wrong with everything you do, or critique you harshly but then don’t show up to the gallery the next day, that’s when you need to dump them.
My best friend rips apart my writing every day. He’s my authority figure on the quality of my writing, because he doesn’t have his ego wrapped up in it the way I do. But he’s also the first one to read my blog posts and cheer me on when I’ve done something well.
If someone is guiding you in a way that helps you make decisions you’re proud of, this is a good thing. If not, it might be time to reconsider your authority figures.
Lesson #4: The sound of your own heart has to be the loudest beat in your head.
As you hopefully now see, it’s not enough to say “this person is like me, so I should trust them”. The wiser decision is to say “this person is like me, and because I relate to them, I’d like to get to know them and their ideas better. Until then, I’m going to be mindful about how much they influence my decisions.” The later phrase takes longer to say, but it preserves your integrity 1,000,000x more.
The blind leading the blind leads the whole world off a cliff. Don’t assume a lab coat, or older age means that someone wouldn’t gladly administer deadly voltage to your heart.
P.S. The phrase “appeal to inappropriate authority” is the formal philosophical term for the logical fallacy of justifying your conclusion based solely on the assertion of an expert.
It looks like this:
Person A is an expert on subject B.
Person A has made claim C about subject B.
Therefore, claim C is correct.
This is wrong. Expert status does not confer infallibility, especially if the status is arbitrary.
I didn’t mention all this in the main article because I didn’t think it was all that important. Philosophy can get a little jargon-y, so I try to avoid that.