In my last piece I wrote about the impact that our social arrangements can have on how we make decisions and judgments, even in ways that we may not be consciously aware of. I titled the piece ‘there is no way that I would do that’, and outlined the social psychological experiments conducted by Stanley Milgram in 1961, where he set about understanding how seemingly good people could cause harm to others if the social circumstances were right.
Last week, I was caused to think of this topic again when news broke of a Sydney teenager who set himself on fire to impress his mates. There is no way that ‘normal’ people would do that, right? People who behave like this are just fools and don’t have any care for others, right?
When we take a simplistic approach to understanding human motivation, thinking it is as simple as right and wrong, or as safe or unsafe, we fail to recognise that people are complex, and can fall into the trap of thinking that we can control people to do things that we deem are ‘right’.