Obedience, in the simplest form, means complying with the orders of someone usually an authority figure. But, there’s more to the word than meets the eye. Obedience is the cornerstone of society and human civilization. It’s the very foundation upon which our society is built and functions daily. Without obedience, we would spiral towards a path of anarchy and chaos. We would be in a world without law and order, and a life without rules. But, is it that unthinkable? Is pure obedience the only pathway for us to exist without being deranged?
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Obedience: To Comply with an Authority
Obedience in a Corporation
The heart of any organization is the chain of command and hierarchy that exists. A CEO leads the organization, whilst, the employees follow. This mostly bears fruition and brings in success as bickering and trivial aspects are often overcome. Many companies now follow the more inclusive method of decision making and try to bring as many people as they can to the table for discussion. However, everyone still needs to perform their due diligence and provide the results expected of them. This requires obeying orders and meeting deadlines.
However, not all decisions are to be obeyed, especially not immoral ones. This is where employees must choose to either obey their managers and commit fraud or be disobedient and stand for the truth. This slippery slope is a defining step in your career. Bribery and corruption have long plagued us and made people lose faith in the system. Asking a simple question “Is this how I want to be remembered?” can help you decide on your next step.
The infamous Milgram experiment sheds a rather interesting light on obedience. People were chosen at random from the streets and asked to participate in an experiment for a cash prize. They were then acquainted with a hired actor, which was unknown to the participant. Then, the actor was placed in a room where he was set up to a machine that delivered electrical shocks.
In the adjacent room, the participant controlled the device to adjust the voltage of the shock. He could not see the man in the other room but could only hear him. The experiment required the participant to apply shocks to the other person despite the man yelling in discomfort. The participant had to continue till the maximum voltage of 450V after which the man yelled for a brief time then silence ensued the rooms.
All the time, a voice kept telling the participant to continue. Quite shockingly, the person obliged. Later, the participant was debriefed on the experiment and introduced to the other person who was a paid actor.
The laughs at the end cloud a rather ominous truth about humans. People will do evil if instructed, despite their conscience telling them to opt-out of it. Milgram’s experiment in no way is definitive because there are other factors in a societal setting that he overlooked. People tend not to comply if they can see the other person being shocked, when in groups or the lack of a persistent voice telling them to carry on. The findings are therefore inconclusive. Asch’s experiment and Zimbardo’s prison experiment are just a few who carried on similar work to Milgram.
Obedience vs. Morality
In the court of law, the Nuremberg defense is often cited to evade blame by pinning it on superiors, as those accused were simply following orders. Popularized during the Nuremberg trials, this defense has been used by big corporations, federal agents and anybody who has no actual case. On paper, this should work, but the reality is far from it. Not all orders are meant to be followed and this was exemplified by Erwin Rommel (German Naval Commander during WWII) who burned an order that required him to kill all commanders he captured or would capture, showing that even a military man can use moral judgment to not follow an immoral action.
The Geneva Convention lays out what are war crimes and what can and can’t be done to prisoners held captive. The difference between humans and animals is our ability to think analytically and reason logically. Torture, torment, anguish, pain, and suffering should never be inflicted on anyone or any being.
When orders become cruel, we must use our conscience and be disobedient. Being in uniform is no excuse for committing atrocities and as those tasked with promoting law and order, it is a responsibility to use our moral compass and pave the way.
Obedience in the Modern World
We have come a long way from the Stone Age to modernization. In this era of globalization, it is quintessential that we create a world that is harmonious and filled with tolerance. Intolerance only fuels hatred. Leaders who promote hate and discrimination, who order us to go against our moral code of conduct are tyrants. That’s where we should demonstrate disobedience.
Collective obedience has allowed us to make strides in our civilization. We have been able to work as a unit for the collective good, promote community development and create law and order to protect the weak and help those who are in need. Often, obedience yields greater results than individualism. However, when orders are inhumane, we must choose to stand up and be humane. This means being disobedient to orders that cause harm to others.
In conclusion, the human race is defined by our actions towards others. What we do with our power defines the world we live in and shapes it for generations to come. When the choice is either to follow orders or contend for their individuality, the choice is to be made by the bearer as well as the consequences. “As you sow, so you shall reap.”