Essay: Fear vs. Courage: Obedience vs. Disobedience

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Fear vs. Courage: Obedience vs. Disobedience

It has been suggested that fear and courage are directly related to whether or not a person is obedient. Some believe that it takes courage to be disobedient, since disobedience will normally result in punishment of some kind, and choosing to face punishment takes courage. Those that hold this belief may also believe that obedience is usually the result of fear: fear of the repercussions that are undoubtedly on the way if a particular command is not obeyed.

In "Opinions and Social Pressure," Solomon E. Asch claims that the influence of the masses is quite vast indeed. In fact, he suggests that individuals can be influenced by groups to deny the very evidence of their own senses (Asch). Erich Fromm echoes this sentiment in "Disobedience as a Psychological and Moral Problem." His claim is stronger than Asch's, though. He says that the ability to disobey may be the thing that saves the human race (Fromm). Philip G. Zimbardo's "The Stanford Prison Experiment" tells a similar story. According to Zimbardo's account, people who buy into the labels placed upon them will alter their very personalities and behavior to fall in line with these labels.

By all three of these accounts, it seems as though the key to living a happy life is not obedience, as many are raised to believe. In fact, it seems as though the opposite of this is true. However, it seems misleading to state that the key to living a happy life lies in disobedience. In fact, the key to happiness is the ability of a person to determine for him or herself what the right courses of action are, and following that self-determination.

2. Criterion 1: Obedience and Fear

Krista Malone was always known as a "daddy's girl." She was the apple of her father's eye, held in higher esteem than Keith and Kris, her twin younger brothers and even Mrs. Malone. Krista and Mr. Malone established their bond very early in Krista life, and have neither questioned nor turned away from it in their lives. In fact, Krista's bond with Mr. Malone was so strong that it seemed as though Mr. Malone made a good deal of Krista's decisions for her. Mr. Malone decided what extra-curricular activities Krista would be involved with in elementary school; he had final say on who Krista would date in high school; and when it came time for college, he decided what would be an appropriate major for Krista. Mr. Malone wanted a dentist in the family, so Krista joined the track for students intending to go to dental school.

Everything seemed to be going well for Krista. She was engaged to a fine young man who also had medical aspirations. She was doing extremely well in dental school, so well that she was in line to graduate in the top three percent of her very large class. Her life seemed to be right on track until she confessed something a little shocking: she hated dentistry.

Krista's revelation caused those near her to question her entire decision making process. How could she allow herself to get to such an advanced stage of education, in preparation for a very detailed profession, all the while hating her work? How could she work so hard at something she hated that she was going to graduate in the top three percent of her class? What else was she involved in that was unpleasant to her? Did she even like her fiancee?

Upon initial review of Krista's confession, it appeared that she had missed the point. She had lived her entire life up to that point essentially taking orders from her father. It seemed as though she had not made any decisions for herself. She had simply fallen in line with her father's requirements for her. She had been obedient, and she was miserable. For the purposes of this study, Krista will be treated as the subject, because it is her life, and Mr. Malone will be treated as the majority because he had the most influence in the household.

2.1. Passage A: Opinions and Social Pressure

Solomon E. Asch asks a poignant question in his writing: How, and to what extent do social forces constrain people's opinions and attitudes? He quotes Gabriel Tarde, who says, "Social man is a somnambulist" (Asch). Essentially, what Tarde is saying here is that the person who is devoted to social customs is sleepwalking through his or her own life. This person is not making decisions, and is likely not taking very much joy in what he or she is doing. Krista seemed to match this description of a somnambulist. Because she was not making her own decisions, she was drifting through life rather than living it. She was performing her duties adequately, even well, but she was taking no joy in doing so.

It was found in Asch's experiments that the presence of a partner changed individuals' ability to make decisions against the majority. Being close to a person who disagrees with the majority to a small degree, also called a moderate dissenter, decreases the effect of the majority on the subject by about one-third. This means that if someone else disagrees with the majority to a reasonable degree, the person making the decision is about 33% more likely to make an individual decision, rather than side with the masses. In addition to this finding, Asch's experiments also found that in the presence of a moderate dissenter, the errors made by the subject were more moderate (Asch). Subjects without partners seemed to experience a fear of standing out, of being separated from the majority. Their resulting obedience to the will of the majority was borne out of this fear.

In Krista's case, if Mr. Malone is considered the majority, then the fact that she had no moderate dissenter to disagree with him had a negative influence on her ability to make decisions outside of his influence. If one of Krista's brothers or her mother had suggested a career path that was not completely different from dentistry, such as pediatrics, it may have freed Krista to pursue a career path other than dentistry, a career path that may not have made her miserable. Unfortunately, no such moderate dissenter existed in Krista's house because the other members of the family shared Krista's fear of disagreeing with Mr. Malone. As a result, she decided with the majority and went to dental school against her own will.

2.2. Passage B: The Stanford Prison Experiment

Philip G. Zimbardo reveals startling conclusions about obedience in his description of The Stanford Prison Experiment. The guards in this experiment all treated the prisoners sadistically at one point or another. Perhaps even more disturbing, no guard stopped any other guard from any cruel or sadistic behavior. No guard ever complained about the poor quality of life in the prison, or intervened on behalf of any prisoner. The guards were obedient to the labels that were placed upon them, and they acted like guards at all times, even when acting like a guard went against their natural instincts. One of the guards spoke of feeling imprisoned within this person of sadism and cruelty that was not his true self (Zimbardo). This guard's obedience was motivated by a fear of standing out from the rest of the guards. Indeed, this guard and others who felt similar to the way he did seemed more motivated by a desire to be like everyone in the system than by a concern for the inmates' welfare (Zimbardo).

Krista's experience falls in line with the feelings of the guard who felt imprisoned. Her obedience to the label her father placed upon her resulted in her imprisonment in a career and lifestyle with which she was never comfortable. Society teaches that obedience is the preferable course of action, but by refusing to be obedient to her label Krista could have ended up in a much better position in her life.

3. Criterion 2: Disobedience and Courage

Disobedience was always an option for Krista, but it was a path she never traveled. She believed in her father's plan for her life without question, without hesitation. She was never even able to determine what other options were available because she was so dedicated to the plan her father had for her. Of course, Mr. Malone could never be as intimate with Krista's feelings as Krista herself was. Even with the best intentions, Mr. Malone could not manage Krista's life as effectively as Krista herself could because Mr. Malone never occupied Krista's body or mind. It was Krista's body and mind that were at work in dental school, not Mr. Malone's. Perhaps Krista lacked the courage it takes to peer deep within one's own soul to determine what the proper course of action would have been for her life. In the long run, it would have been better for Krista to find her own path. She should have been disobedient.

3.1. Passage… [END OF PREVIEW]

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