Humans are social animals. That is the way it has always been–in past for survival and in present day for companionship. But our instincts to stick by others is sometimes detrimental to others. Consider the Holocaust or the My Lai massacre. The people who participated in these mass murders mostly said one thing when they were questioned: that they only did it because “everyone else was”. Or, (perhaps worse) because they were “just following orders.
The past benefit of these instincts are obvious: when humans survived almost solely by working together, going against the group or sticking out to others could mean abandonment. And in those times abandonment most likely meant death.
Today, we still seek the approval of others, because it is still a human need to avoid loneliness. So this could explain why most of us are still so afraid to go against the grain.
In the late 20th century, a scientist named Stanley Milgram preformed an experience to test the level of peoples’ obedience to authority. The test was set up so that the subjects believed they were supposed to shock another man in an adjoining with increasingly high voltage when he answered questions wrong. The other man was not actually receiving shocks, but acted like he was with increasing desperation and agony.
Milgram originally predicted that most people would stop giving the ordered shocks when the other man begged to be released. But 67% of people went all the way through the experiment, even to the highest voltage labeled “danger”. Most required considerate prodding by the lab assistant (and appeared increasingly uncomfortable with the situation), but still continued to do what they knew to be creating pain.
This shows how people often choose to absolve themselves of pain, doing what others order either to be accepted by others or because they doubt themselves. But these situations show that in times where you think you are required to follow others, do not forget to think for yourself first.