Obedience As the Means to a Peaceful Life

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What leads a perfectly reasonable person to obediently follow the command to harm someone who has done no wrong to them? Why would someone follow orders to lace Kool-aid with cyanide and extinguish the lives of over 1,000 faithful men, women and children? Or to torture and degrade prisoners without provocation? Why would anyone follow directions to administer electric shocks of increasing strength as punishment for failing a simple memory test? While these scenarios may sound like the newest video games in which one assumes the character of another, people can and do commit violent acts like these in the name of obedience. Zimbardo, Milgram and Orwell show that obedience is a response to the role one assumes in life; to find personal satisfaction and inner peace, one must demonstrate obedience. As found in the infamous Stanford Prison Study, the conviction with which people assume their roles, as well as the extreme behavior they are willing to go to perpetuate their role and demonstrate obedience to the perceived authority stunned even the designer of the study, Phillip Zimbardo. In this study, male college students volunteered to participate in an experiment in which one group was randomly assigned the role of prisoner and the other to the role of guard. With little instruction and few guidelines for behavior provided as to how to carry out the assigned roles, each individual reacted with behavior observed as appropriate to their position; prisoners rebelled against authority and guards retaliated with force. In just a few days prisoners decided to obediently follow the rules set out by the guards and to expect punishment if they did not comply. One of the prisoners reported that “…when I saw the revolt wasn’t working... ... middle of paper ... ...ministered shock to the learner for failing in his task. For participants in the Stanford Prison Study, peace was found by obediently fulfilling the roles assigned, be it prisoner or guard. For Winston Smith, peace came in the place where there is no darkness, obediently, wholeheartedly professing his love for Big Brother. Works Cited Milgram, Stanley. “The Perils of Obedience.” Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. 358-70. Orwell, George. 1984, Signet Classics, New York, New York, 1950. Troyka, Lynn Quitman. Simon & Schuster Handbook for Writers. 7th ed. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, Inc., 2002 Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. 7th ed. Ed. Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. New York: Longman, 2003. Zimbardo, Philip G. “The Stanford Prison Experiment.” Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. 389-400.

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