If you read this intro before…skip to the blue below.
I had this idea in my head. Maybe put three pictures up in my office, each representing something important about what I do. Counseling reminder. A touchstone for the eye of sorts. Well, like I said, it was in my head and as I realized one of the three pictures I wasn’t going to be able to get, and the others were certainly copyrighted, the three sort of evolved as I looked for alternatives. So in looking for a different way to go, in my head, we went from three reminders to 96 reminders. It’s why my wife refers to what comes out of my noggin as ‘cumbersome’ on occasion.
So. I am mostly a counselor but I have also studied and practiced a bunch of other things including cuisine and photography. I always wanted to have an idea why some folks in every field are wildly successful compared to many of their contemporaries, so I always checked a bunch of them out. So, here come 96 people and quotes attributed to them, if there are any – 24 chefs, 24 photographers, 20 people associated with psychology directly, and then 28 none of the above people whose lives or words remind me what to strive towards as a counselor, a counseling business owner, and a general human being. The only problem was stopping. There have been a lot of people who for one reason or another inspire me, lots more names on the potential list but it had to at least pause somewhere, so here we are.
I don’t rightly know if writing these out and posting them will be of any use to anyone else but I’m reasonably sure codifying the whole thing will drive it home for me and hopefully offer some encouragement and centering for our folks. Hope you get something out of one or two of them too.
So, if you have ever taken an Intro to Psych class, watched enough Science/Learning Channel, or any other sources you probably have heard of Dr. Stanley Milgram. Might not remember his name but his central work will likely have stuck with you. His hallmark and freakishly infamous experiment in obedience/authority/human nature sought to explain how something like the Holocaust of World War II is not only possible, but how we as human beings could so commonly participate in such disturbing behavior. After his experiment suggested somedisconcerting possibilities in human nature, here’s some of what Dr. Milgram had to say on the matter…
“The disappearance of a sense of responsibility is the most far-reaching consequence of submission to authority.”
“Each individual possesses a conscience which to a greater or lesser degree serves to restrain the unimpeded flow of impulses destructive to others. But when he merges his person into an organizational structure, a new creature replaces autonomous man, unhindered by the limitations of individual morality, freed of humane inhibition, mindful only of the sanctions of authority.”
“Control the manner in which a man interprets his world, and you have gone a long way toward controlling his behavior. That is why ideology, an attempt to interpret the condition of man, is always a prominent feature of revolutions, wars, and other circumstances in which individuals are called upon to perform extraordinary action.”
“Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.”
“It may be that we are puppets-puppets controlled by the strings of society. But at least we are puppets with perception, with awareness. And perhaps our awareness is the first step to our liberation.
“Tyrannies are perpetuated by diffident men who do not possess the courage to act out their beliefs.”
I would say, on the basis of having observed a thousand people in the experiment and having my own intuition shaped and informed by these experiments, that if a system of death camps were set up in the United States of the sort we had seen in Nazi Germany, one would find sufficient personnel for those camps in any medium-sized American town.
I’ve heard people suggest that there must have been something wrong with the Germans, Stan has news…
“The importation and enslavement of millions of black people, the destruction of the American Indian population, the internment of Japanese Americans, the use of napalm against civilians in Vietnam, all are harsh policies that originated in the authority of a democratic nation, and were responded to with the expected obedience.”
I’ve watched quite a few folks in classes say reflexively “I would NEVER do that!” I’m sure he heard that a fair bit too, and suggested this…
“If you think it is easy to violate social constraints, get onto a bus and sing out-loud. Full-throated song now, no humming. Many people will say it’s easy to carry out this act, but not one in a hundred will be able to do it. The point is not to think about singing, but to try to do it. Only in action can you fully realize the forces operative in social behavior. That is why I am an experimentalist.”
And this just seemed apropos in our current situation…
“We sometimes have a choice among authorities, and we ought to look at this phenomenon within the experiment. It is possible that when different authorities simultaneously call for opposing lines of action, a person’s own values will prevail and determine which authority he follows.”
What I take away from Milgram is that we are intensely social creatures and not only are many of us are capable of tragically frightening behavior when those needs are manipulated by terrible people, we, everyday are confronted by astounding pressures we often pretend don’t affect us. Asch, Zimbardo, Bandura, and others have offered evidence, but Milgram’s shock generator reminds me most intensely. It is also a great reminder that we need to balance the desire for knowledge with the well-being of those being studied, something this study shone a harsh light on.
As a counselor, I can’t just consider the person in front of me. Their inner circle, their acquittances/associates, their communities, professional mind-scrambling businesses and organizations, the media, and the powers that be are all pushing and pulling on them, whether they acknowledge it or not. If I ignore their influence, we both stumble blindly.
In my own life I need to always remember I am as susceptible to the intense pressures of compliance, conformity, and obedience as any other functioning, social, human. I have to acknowledge them and account for them. Every time I feel pressured, I can’t just take a knee to someone who simply has power or popularity if their ideas/direction don’t not align with my internal and personal beliefs. It’s one of the reasons the influence of celebrity culture has on some folks gnaws at me. Just cause you’re good at pretending to be someone smart or strong or ethical in no way shape or form makes you those things. I’d rather trust the people they are pretending to be most of the time, even if they aren’t as pretty or charismatic. I’m sure great people exist inside of the limelight, but I don’t know any of ‘em. Their talent, and the cheddar that purchases their “influencing” makes me suspect. It’s also why I am suspect of holders of power…all of them…and I need to recognize that my clients all have varied and earned notions about all of those things that may be dramatically different from mine. Some of those notions might serve as ropes in our borrowed training elephants analogy (Podcast episode here.)
I should also seek to encourage people to build, strengthen, and examine their internal system of belief and values as well as empower them to stand on those principles, even should they be challenged by popular opinion or powerful influence. The unfortunate outcome of failing to do so soaks history in appalling things. Let’s not risk the future.
To learn more about Stanley and his “shocking experiment” try the links below…
Overview on Simply Psychology – click here
Full 1962 documentary – click here
See horror director Eli Roth replicate first portion of experiment with a more modern person – click here