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The following article
was written by Coleman Patterson and
appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.
'no' to managers sometime essential, January 19, 2007, 2D.
say no!” was a popular campaign theme for the anti-drug
movement. At times, it is also necessary to say no to
superiors and those in authority. Not doing so can be
costly and harmful.
series of television news shows demonstrated the natural
willingness of people to comply with orders and requests
from others who are perceived to be in positions of
authority. In one such story, an individual posing as a
police officer made phone calls to fast-food restaurants
across the country asking store managers to detain and strip
search employees as part of an alleged investigation.
Several managers complied. One female employee was actually
made to perform jumping jacks in the nude in compliance with
the orders of the store manager as instructed by the voice
on the phone. The events of the story were all caught on
the restaurant’s security camera.
explain why such disturbing and ridiculous-seeming things
occur, ABC News drew on the work of Stanley Milgram and his
team of researchers at Yale University in the early 1960s.
Milgram was interested in the relationship between authority
and compliance. His interest in this topic came from the
atrocities performed by the Nazis during World War II. He
sought to understand why and how people could perform
unspeakable and horrific acts on others.
Milgram’s classic and controversial studies involved a
series of experiments that set subjects up as teachers. The
subjects in the experiments were instructed to administer
electric shocks to learners (who were actually involved in
the experiments) when they answered questions incorrectly.
At predetermined times in the experiments, learners
expressed pain and discomfort from the shocks, voiced their
objections to continuing the experiment, demanded to be
released from their connection to the shock machine, and
fell silent after acting that they experienced a heart
attack. Over the objections of the learners, a large
percentage of subjects administered and continued to
administer progressively higher shocks simply because they
were told to do so by an authority figure—a man in a lab
coat who was perceived to be in charge of the situation.
When subjects expressed their desire to cease the
experiments and shocks, the authority figure told them to
continue and assumed responsibility for the outcomes.
Milgram’s studies demonstrated the tendency for individuals
to comply with the orders of people who are perceived to be
in positions of power and authority, even when the orders
and actions might be immoral, unethical, or illegal.
Perceptions of status, power, and authority can sometimes
lead lower-level participants to override their own senses
of morality and basic judgment. An environment and culture
that encourages its people to “just follow orders” is one
that is destined to fall victim to the abuse of power by
corrupt people and policies.
things can happen when authority is followed blindly and
without question. Many of the ethics scandals that have
plagued our society over the past years could have easily
been averted by one or more bold people. It is required of
educated and moral people to sometimes say no, and disobey.
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