Four year ago (7 November 2007), I wrote a blog called The Milgram Experiment And Enterprise Architecture, which discussed lessons from this experiment in terms of the awesome responsibility that we all have, but especially people in leadership positions, to do the “right thing.“
Today, I sat with my mouth agape seeing the Milgram Experiments repeated 50 years later in a study for television, conducted by the Discovery Channel, where they asked “How Evil Are We?”
I watched one participant after another administer what they believed where painful shocks to a another person with a heart condition screaming and begging for the experiment to stop.
Of 11 people, only one women stepped up, stood up, and refused to participate, saying that she could not harm another human being.
All the rest, continued to administer what they thought were painful shocks to an unwilling screaming participant having heart pain, simply by being prodded by a man in a lab coat at the back of the room saying “the experiment requires you to continue” and “it’s absolutely essential you continue.”
To the viewers horror, the participants continue to to push the lever to shock the other person at an even higher voltage!
When they ask the people afterwards who administered the shock, who would’ve been responsible if the person receiving the shock had a heart attack and died? one lady immediately turns around and points to the other man in the lab coat.
Like in the evil Nazi death camps, “authority remains a decisive force” and people will do horrible acts saying they were “just following orders.”
In the Discovery program, when they add a second person to the experiment who stops the shocking and refuses to go on, only then does the other person refuse as well.
So aside from the lesson that we must always safeguard our own moral compass and do the right thing even in the face of others prodding us to do things that are immoral, unethical, or illegal, we can also learn that by speaking up when we see something wrong, we can indeed influence others to do what’s right as well, and in essence “lead by example”.
My hope and prayer is that all of us can overcome negative impacts of nature and nurture to see with clarity when something is not right and have the courage to stand up and say and do something about it.
Like the sole participant who refused to administer the shocks and said that she couldn’t go home at night and look herself in the mirror if she did these bad things, we too can live our lives so that when we go home to our maker, we can look at our lives with our consciences clear and at peace, and perhaps even having made a real and lasting difference in this world.