Do any of you watch the show Impractical Jokers? It’s on truTV. I really love it because besides being funny, it really is a social commentary. There are so many societal/socail rules that we have that we don’t even consciously notice. Anyway, I can talk about that forever – but the other day I was watching an episode and I had a realization about authority.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the show, it features four best friends who challenge each other to ridiculous dares in public. Everything is filmed on a hidden camera. If the friends are on a dare assignment and refuse to do or say anything that the other friends assign them to do, they lose the challenge.
On one episode, Murr, one of the impractical jokers, is asked to sit at a reception desk. While sitting at the desk, three of his friends communicate with him through an earpiece that isn’t visible to anyone else. They command Murr to say and do funny things. On this particular challenge Murr is sitting at a reception desk and is interacting with people (not aware that they are on a show) that believe they are coming in the office to participate in a focus group.
While at the reception desk, a participant from the focus group walks into register. Murr greets the participant and asks her to stand between an office tree and an office chair. By the way, the entire waiting room area is full of empty chairs. The woman politely listens to Murr’s instructions without question. To my amazement, the woman continues to stand there without objection, complaint, or comment. Next, a gentleman walks in. Murr greets the man, and then also asks him to stand between an office plant and a chair. The man actually asks what this is about. Murr replies saying that “these are the office rules”. The man nods and is perfectly ok with this response. He continues to stand.
Next, Murr’s friends make another command into the earpiece. They tell Murr that he can tell the man and the women standing in the waiting room that ONE of them is allowed to sit and that they must decide amongst themselves, who is able to sit. Once again the two listen to Murr. Even though the rule is completely arbitrary and resources (in this case the amount of seats available) aren’t scarce. The two actually start to negotiate with each other and the women ends up saying that she thinks she should be allowed to sit because she’s been standing for a longer period of time. The man agrees and then continues to stand in the presence of 20 open seats.
On one hand, this scene was absolutely hilarious but on the other hand it was kind of scary. It illustrates how accustomed we are to blindly following rules in society. It demonstrates that we are willing to follow rules that don’t always make sense. It baffles me that these two didn’t question the rule or the reasoning behind the rule. I thought about why they didn’t question the rule and it occurred to me that perhaps they didn’t want to cause a “problem” or appear rude. They probably were agreeable because they wanted to avoid not being liked. The scary thing is that this type of behavior emerges in other areas of our lives – more important areas. This behavior affects life decisions and even our life paths.
For example, there are many individuals who don’t pursue their dreams and passions because people in authority tell them that they are being “unrealistic”. This advice can come from people with the best intentions – teachers, role models or even your parents. Nonetheless hearing this advice from people in positions of authority can greatly strengthen the influence of the message.
How can we prevent this type of behavior?
Think about whether the person delivering the message to you is greatly influencing your tendency to accept this rule, belief, or perspective. For example are you “blindly following” a rule or opinion because the person is an: authority figure, celebrity, person you admire, attractive, wealthy etc.?
Think about whether the rule is ethical and strive to understand why the rule was created. As in the example above, the rule to stand between an office chair and a tree doesn’t make common sense if you use your judgement. Why would anyone command you to stand if there are plenty of available seats? The point is to ask questions and challenge the rules if something doesn’t make sense or a rule can be improved upon. This type of thinking is actually appreciated by employers as they love to see employees improve processes and make them more efficient. Let’s face it, this kind of behavior is beneficial from an entrepreneurial standpoint as well as every consumer or individual for that matter appreciates when another person adds value to their lives by challenging the status quo.
You should be aware of the fact that you always have a choice when it comes to following rules. People in authority are human – which means that they make mistakes and can have flaws in their thinking. Do not take things at face value, or blindly accept what you have been told. Be an independent thinker. Always ask why.