As a busy mom of eight, a part of me sees and hears all of the division, anger and political strive in our country and I just want to just sit back, drink some coffee and avoid, avoid, avoid. But guess what? A culture can go down the toilet in about half a second if all of us good people just opt out and silently drink our coffee.
So. Today I would like to write about some bigger topics. You might want to take a moment to get your own cup of coffee. ♥
I want to begin by asking: why do super good people, with big hearts, go along with things that they do not agree with?
That is one of the questions that a young professor of psychology, Stanley Milgram, asked himself in the early 1960’s. He was a Jewish man, twenty years from the Holocaust. A question burned within him: how had six million people been murdered?
At the time, most people condemned the entire Nazi party as evil and that was that. Milgram, however, suspected that there was more to the story. He had a hunch that only a small minority of the people that inflicted punishment on his Jewish people were actually evil.
(I'd like to pause here and just add this note: I want to clearly say that this post is NOT about the Holocaust but rather about human behavior and what people do when they are put in a new situation where there is an authority figure ordering them to do something.)
Now, here is a little known truth: you and I (and every other person on the planet) have a survival strategy; we avoid conflict with others, especially with those in authority. Why is this a “survival strategy?” Well, think about it this way. Our ancestors had to fit in. To be different meant that they might be ousted from the protective environment.
That makes sense, right? Groups have certain beliefs and certain “ways.” For our ancestors to stand against those beliefs meant they would be out in the cold. Literally.
So they learned to fit in and conform to the group. They survived and you exist today because of that!
Back to Stanley Milgram. He suspected that only a small portion of the perpetrators in Germany were evil. He felt like the others were “merely pawns in an evil process, pushed along by the powerful -but poorly understood- dynamics of social pressure.” ~ "The Pleasure Trap," location 1942 Kindle Edition.
So what did he do to test his hypothesis? Well, he created a situation where people would face a dilemma:
Here’s how he set it up. He advertised in a local paper that he was conducting a study on learning and memory and he was looking for some help. The people that answered the ad (he labeled them the “Subjects”) were met by two others: an “Experimenter” and the “Learner.”
The Experimenter was a man that looked stern. He wore a white lab coat and was obviously in charge. The Learner looked like your average guy. (Both were actually part of the research team.)
The person who had answered the ad, the Subject, was told that he or she was given the task of being a teacher for the experiment. It was his or her task to help the Learner memorize words and to find out if electric shocks would enhance memory function.
This is how the experiment was laid out: The Experimenter took the Learner into a room and hooked him up to a shock generator. (Again, both of those men were part of the research team.)
The unsuspecting Subject was taken to another room (with an open door between) where he was placed in front of a panel of electric switches.
The Subject was given a a list of words which he was to read out loud. The Learner, hooked to the shock generator, had to repeat the sequence correctly. If not, the Subject had to give him a shock. If the Learner made more errors, the Subject was to increase the intensity of shocks.
Stanley Milgram preplanned what the Learner would say at each level:
What makes this experiment so interesting is the role of the Experimenter. He stood there, verbally PRODDING the obviously agitated Subject to continue the process of shocking the Learner, no.matter.what.
At the first sign of pain, the Experimenter, clad in his important white lab coat and holding his clipboard would say his preplanned words, “Please continue,” and “Please go on.”
At higher levels, he would follow his script and say, “The experiment requires that of you,” and “It is absolutely essential that you continue.”
Finally, he was to use the chilling, “You have no other choice, you must go on.”
Only after the Subject refused to continue after four prods was the experiment to be stopped.
Okay. So after Stanley collected the results from the experiment, he asked many different groups of people what they thought the results would be.
None were even close.
A group of 39 psychiatrists predicted:
The Truth? Over 60% of the subjects, regardless of age, race or education, were intimidated enough to shock the Learner to the maximum 450 volts.
Why did that happen? Well, obviously, the Subject felt like they had to go on and they didn’t want to contradict authority.
But there was more to it. This study keyed in on something that is vital to understand: the dynamics of integrity.
What do I mean by that? Well, our integrity is basically the working relationship between our values and our behaviors. The Subjects in Stanley Milgram’s experiment felt forced to go against their own sense of integrity (their understanding of right and wrong) in favor of the Experimenter’s pressure.
In short, when put under social pressure by someone in authority, they felt obligated to go against their own deeply held beliefs, actually inflicting pain - to the point of killing - another human being.
Stanley found out that social pressure is a “seriously underappreciated aspect of human life.”
So what does that have to do with you and me today? Well, you and I are being placed in an oddly similar situation; we are in an integrity crisis with unknown consequences.
Now, let me just pause right here and take a deep breath. You might want to take a small little pause, too. Go get a cup of coffee. Go brew some tea.
Okay. Go back to March of 2020. Try to see the situation using a different lens. What I mean by that: we normally see things according to how they happened to us. Try to zoom out.
What words would you use to describe the current status of the United States of America since March of 2020?
Fear. Division. Panic.
Let’s take a deeper look at that. Fear. Is fear of God? Nope. It’s not. Perfect love casts out fear. So when there is fear present, you know that the evil one is present. I guess you could say that fear is his calling card.
As I look at our changed world since March, I am personally both flabbergasted and almost impressed by the ways the media as well as other powerful forces have manipulated us as human beings, collectively as well as individually.
And this is where Stanley Milgram’s experiment comes into play. His test subjects were put into a situation where two important values were “pitted” against each other:
The subjects were also pressured to make a decision RIGHT NOW and were not mentally prepared to handle the crisis.
They didn’t think they had another choice, so they just followed orders.
The conclusion, made after “decades of teaching, discussing and pondering Milgram’s landmark study,” was that the experiment resulted in “extraordinary behavior because the subjects could not fathom any other alternative.” ~ “The Pleasure Trap,” location 2017 Kindle Edition.
I have thought a lot about this and can easily see how important it would have been if a trusted friend would have sat the Subject down before they went into the experiment and just said to them,
"Friend, you are going to be put into a situation today where your integrity is going to be put to the test. There are forces that want you to comply with them. They are going to see how far they can push you and they want you to go along with their evil plan. However, I’m here to tell you, friend, that you have a resource and it is inside of you. That resource is your understanding of right and wrong. When you get the first inkling that what is happening is not right, I want you to know that you can stop the experiment and walk away, no matter what anyone says or demands, okay?”
Can you see how that kind of a “private pep talk” would have easily given the Subject the needed sense of permission to stand up to the Experimenter?
There are days when I feel like I am standing in the middle of Stanley Milgram’s experiment. I feel like I am being “pushed” by some force. “Continue. Do this. Now.”
We have not been prepared for this particular crisis. We aren’t sure how to handle mask wearing and social distancing, so as good citizens, we are doing what seems right: complying.
At first I was happy to oblige. I sort of lost my trust in the system, however, when I heard that numbers of positive cases as well as deaths from Covid were being skewed.
So, what are we, the people in this totally new and unexpected “experiment” supposed to do?
First and foremost, we must pray. I believe we are in a spiritual battle right now. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12.
When I say pray, I mean fervent prayer. Pick up your beads. Go to Mass. Fast. Spend time in the quiet with God. He is all-powerful and all-knowing. He loves you and will guide you. Pray for those in leadership roles. Pray to have grace and charity for everyone.
Secondly, realize that you have a deeply coded survival strategy within you that simply wants to fit in and do what everyone else is doing. But as a follower of Christ, you are not a follower of the world. You need to think with the mind of Christ. Educate yourself about current topics. Discuss those topics with those in your circle of influence.
Third, know that you can be prepared with a countermove to protect yourself and the ones you love. You have that "inner ninja" called Mama Intuition. If you are feeling that some very wrong things are happening, it is time to speak out. It might not be easy. It might not be pretty, but as Christians, we know that the war has already been won. We just need to stop being silenced by those that seem a little scary to us; we need to stand our ground.
Sometimes that is as simple as opening up the conversation by asking good, thoughtful questions.
And for those that are truly Christian AND in leadership (nurses, doctors, lawyers, teachers, principals, superintendents, priests, bishops, archbishops), know that you were born for such a time as this. Be not afraid. The (real) Force is within you.
Finally, I love strong priests that have the courage to speak truth. Here are two examples of heroic men. Please listen to their homilies. They know they have been charged with shepherding their flocks and they are not afraid to do so.
Father Robert Altier, Church of St. Raphael, Crystal, Minnesota
Father Bernie Gorges, St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church, Schulte, Kansas
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