Have you seen the famous photo from 1936 of a huge crowd of people all saluting Hitler, but one man stands out. Why? He keeps his arms crossed and doesn’t join in. He was identified as August Landmesser, a German shipyard worker who wanted to be a loyal citizen but fell in love with a Jewish lady and the government just passed a law forbidding “inter-marriage.” A few years later she was killed in the Ravensbruck concentration camp, whereas he was pressed into military service, sent to the front line, and died.
There’s a phrase that says “You’ve got to go along to get along” but he wouldn’t. He couldn’t go along with what everyone else was doing.
Now I like to think I’d be like him, because the Bible says, “Do not follow the crowd in wrong doing” (Ex 23:2). But really, I’m not at all sure. When the trumpets, tubas, and trombones play and it’s trouble if you don’t join in, I’m like you and we like to fit in. But when it’s bow down or die. What do we do?
Stanley Milgram was a psychologist who examined the justifications given after the war at the Nuremberg trials for those who had committed the atrocities and genocides and saw how often they said they “We are not bad people, we’re ordinary people who were just being obedient to the higher authorities.”
So, in the 1960s at Yale, he set up a now famous experiment to test how far people would go in obeying an instruction if it involved hurting people. 40 people were made to believe by a man in a white coat carrying a clipboard that on the other side of the screen was a man, really an actor they’d met in the waiting room, who they saw being ...
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