Set Your Own Standards


In life, you are confronted by a myriad of possible experiences. Your response to certain situations shapes your life. The way you act is often defined by what society deems acceptable and by the dictates of authority figures. 

In disbelief about the atrocities committed by an entire nation in WW2, psychologists sought explanations. Surely not every single participant in the holocaust was born evil. One psychologist seeking answers was Stanley Milgram, who conducted an experiment observing people’s obedience to authority figures.

Milgram tested people’s obedience to the orders of authority figures by having volunteers give electric shocks to other volunteers. In reality, the “volunteer” receiving the electric shocks was one of Milgram’s associates. He was pretending to receive jolts of electricity.

The volunteer giving the shocks was overshadowed by the experimenter, who was wearing a large lab coat. The experimenter told the volunteer to gradually increase the voltage of shocks administered. The pretext was that they were studying one’s learning abilities when under physical discomfort. Thus, they asked the “learner” questions and administered electric shocks to every wrong answer given.

After a lighthearted start, the experimenter ordered the volunteer to increase the voltage. Soon, the learner (one of Milgram’s associates) was shouting in agony. Yet, when the experimenter in the lab coat told the volunteer to up the voltage, most of them complied. Two thirds of the volunteers continued to the highest voltage, at which point the learner had stopped responding. 

Under the orders of an authority, two-thirds of the volunteers were driven to putting the other volunteer in a life-threatening situation, all for a simple experiment. Rather than take responsibilities for their actions, they passed off the responsibility to the authority figure. 

This experiment shows that people are highly susceptible to being influenced, especially when the person influencing is an authority figure. 

Every person has a different perception of whom they view as an authority. Rationally recognized as authority figures by most people are doctors and lawyers. Less rationally accepted as authority figures are celebrities, rock stars and professional athletes. People follow their actions religiously, altering their lifestyle drastically in accordance to their views. On a smaller scale, people tend to go with what the alphas of their group say and do.

It is important to be aware of the reason behind one’s choices. One must be careful not to act against their values due to someone else’s expectations. This is the distinction between being a sheep in a herd and being a self-valuing individual. This is the distinction between an empty life and a fulfilling life. 

Live by your own standards. We can only be in control of how we act. If someone else acts out of line, that is their decision. If someone acts unlawfully, they must be able to bear the outcome. You must decide how you wish to live your life. It is up to you to decide which actions you wish to take; which outcome you desire. Set your own standard. As much as people will try to persuade you otherwise, they will also admire you for it. And you will admire yourself for it. 

Severin, December 15th 2018

Severin MuddComment