(This is part 2 in a series. Part one is, “What went wrong?”)
After World War II, people wondered if the German functionaries who obediently participated in mass killings were somehow different from the rest of us. To find out, a social psychologist named Stanley Milgram set up a series of experiments. He had subjects apply an electric shock to another person whenever that person gave a wrong answer to a series of questions.
The “victim” was a confederate and never actually received any shocks (he was in another room), but the subjects didn’t know that. With each wrong answer, the shocks became stronger. Amazingly, almost all the subjects inflicted the painful shocks, and almost two-thirds continued up to a fatal limit of 450 volts. Some of the subjects broke down and required therapy afterward.
Two things came out of these experiments. 1. Psychologists were never to put subjects through that level of emotional stress again, and 2. Ordinary people will harm and even kill innocent persons if an authority tells them to do so. Like James Ray, the experimenter didn’t threaten or overtly force the participants in any way. He just told them this is what they were supposed to do. In the Milgram experiments, the subjects thought they were killing others. In the sweat lodge event, the subjects allowed themselves to be killed.
Few of us will ever get into such harrowing situations, but understanding the power of authority in our lives and how to deal with it positively, can make a tremendous difference to our well-being. If those people had listened to their inner guidance, the results would have been very different. And so it is for us when we end up in situations where we feel bad.
Some have speculated that James Ray used sophisticated mind-control techniques, but the Milgram experiments tell us he didn’t need to do anything like that. All he needed to do was become a trusted authority.
None of us is immune to the call of authority in our culture. This is why it often seems like the Law of Attraction doesn’t work. We want something so much and wonder why we can’t have it. However, years of training to obey the authorities around us, whether it feels good or not, distracts us from focusing our thoughts purely on what we want.
The answer for dealing with the negative effects of authority is simple but requires some practice: If what they tell you doesn’t feel good, use that emotional message as a guide. Look for a way to approach the subject that does feel good, or turn your attention away.
For example, is there anything you can think of that feels positive around the James Ray sweat lodge event?
Next in the series: Blaming the victim.
(To receive alerts when new articles are available, just click on the Subscribe button above.)