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  • Deborah Allen

But he told me to do it


I grew up with three brothers so when one of us got caught for doing something naughty there was always a handy scapegoat to point at and say ‘but he told me do it’

My mother had a standard reply to this excuse and would say ‘and if he told you to put your head in the gas oven would you do it’?

Her point was that we had done whatever it was of our own free will, we were all intelligent enough to know right from wrong and we all had to take responsibility for our own actions.

I wish my mum could pass on this little gem to the world in general.

Last week there was an awful news story about a dog who had suffocated in an overhead locker on a plane.

The flight attendant had told the owner to put the dog in the overhead locker and the owner had done as they were told.

Other passengers have since said they had heard the dog whimper and bark for up to two hours before falling silent.

Now the owner blames the airline saying ...’she (the flight attendant) told me to do it’.

Not good enough, the owner is responsible for the safety and well-being of her dog and if the owner did not think the dog would be safe they should have refused even if that meant leaving the flight. If the flight attendant had suggested putting a child in the overhead locker everyone would have been up in arms about it and rightly so, yet in this case everyone sat still and did nothing because someone in a uniform had given an order.

Now I really don’t endorse general anarchy, but surely sometimes common sense must take over and force people to think for themselves. Well, you would hope so, but it seems not. There are many examples of persons in authority abusing their power, using their uniform to coerce people into doing the most awful things or of misguided people in uniform giving bad advice that was followed blindly and with deadly consequences , blindly obeyed because they represented authority.

Amazingly many people are like sheep and if given an order by someone in a uniform they follow that order no matter how absurd or dangerous.

In 2012 when a cruise liner hit rocks and was sinking passengers were told to return to their cabins. Some people did just that, returning to almost certain death.

The same thing happened in a London tower block blaze when residents were told by fire and police crews to stay in their flats. Many people said afterwards that the only reason they had survived was because they ignored that advice, sadly many of those who obeyed orders and stayed put died in that terrible fire.

It seems we have been conditioned to blindly obey those in a uniform or those who have some badge of authority and in doing so we ignore our own gut feeling for what is right and wrong.

I am not even talking about war time situations where soldiers will kill other human beings because a bloke in an office or a man in a uniform with braid on the hat tells them too, that is a far deeper and darker level of blind obedience.

Why do we, as ordinary individuals do it? Well psychologists have found that we have an instinct to obey figures of authority even if they are fakes but look the part.

The Milgram Agency theory finds that people have two states of behaviour when in a social setting, the 'autonomous state' – where a person will make their own decision and take actions based on that accepting responsibly for their actions and the

'agentic state' – Where people surrender control, allowing others to give orders or directions and then passing responsibility for their actions to the person giving the orders.

This is where the ‘he told me to do it ‘comes in. It is truly shocking to learn that faced with a scientist or person in uniform giving them orders, subjects in these tests were actually willing to inflict pain on another human being.

The good news is that when one of the subjects then disobeyed the authority figure and refused to comply the compliance of others dropped to just 10% , meaning that if even one person speaks out it can make a real difference.

So, when we see something that is clearly wrong, and we wonder what one voice can do here is the answer. Just speaking out can make a difference. No-one expects any of us to be perfect and no one expects us to all be heroes but speaking out, voicing concerns, pointing out mistakes , when done politely, respectfully, but firmly, is the right thing to do.

It might well be lambing season but don't be a yet another sheep blindly following the crowd, now is the time to stand up and say I won’t be a sheep, I won’t follow blindly, I will think for myself and accept the responsibility for my own actions.

Oh, and don’t point at me and say She told me to do it... Do it for yourself, claim back your right to decide...


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