This week I watched Ghosts of Abu Ghraib and of course it caused me to start analyzing human behavior again. There was one line in the movie that really got me thinking. One of the soldiers said something to the effect that we all have this darkness in us and once you let it out it’s easy to get caught up in it. Basically once you get the green light from some form of authority that it is OK to do something harmful or hateful you are inclined to do it and when any doubts arise you can remind yourself you have permission. This is what happened to the soldiers that were working at Abu Ghraib. They engaged in horrendous acts of torture and humiliation of prisoners. On their own accord they would not have thought to act in this manner, but the chain of command permitted them to. Once they pushed through the initial fight put up by their consciences it became just a part of the job. Eventually they documented it on film just like they would any other normal aspect of life. As we all know the photos were their downfall. In the end it was the men and women at the bottom of that chain that took the heat for committing these acts. And of course they were the ones who did it, but they were only responding to a command placed before them by the highest authority. (It was Rumsfield who signed the first order that ultimately resulted in the photos we’ve seen of Abu Ghraib.)
At the intro and conclusion of the documentary they showed footage of an experiment done in the 50s (I believe). Average citizens were instructed to administer shocks to people (who were actually actors). The people would press a button and hear the actor screaming on the other side of a wall. The “authority” would tell them to give a stronger shock. A few argued but ultimately they all administered the shocks despite the cries and screams from the “victim.”
The lesson I learned from watching this documentary was that it really is vital that we teach our children and ourselves to listen to our inner guidance. I believe that within us all is a connection to something divine and loving. I believe that something speaks to us and inspires or encourages us to do no harm. If we follow it we will be at peace. If we do not we will be out of integrity with ourselves.
In some cases authority dangles a carrot of power in front of us. A leader may make demands on his/her followers using the threat of losing something valuable in order to maintain power. An organization or establishment may promise power to an individual in exchange for cooperation in some manner. Where ever it is, whether on the elementary school playground or the military battlefield, it is all about defending or acquiring power.
So the next time a demand is made of you get quiet and ask your inner guidance what you should do. If it feels terribly wrong it probably is. Don’t discount your instincts, they’re there for a reason! In the end the outer power will probably not be worth the inner conflict of selling out…