My family and I were at the park for my surprise 40th birthday party the other day, a big public park in Auckland, New Zealand. And it was the same day as the Chinese New Year Festival, so there were heaps of stalls setting up in the park for Chinese New Year.
Before I got there, some official-looking people wearing high-viz jackets and carrying clipboards came over to my mum and said that we'd have to move our gazebo and the other stuff set up for my birthday because they had “booked out the whole park”.
Now, most people would just believe them.
But my mum's a psychologist, she understands cognitive biases, and she understood that these people don't actually have power just because they seemed assertive and wore reflective clothing. As far as she knew, they were just random people in jackets.
So she said, “No, this is a public park. You can't tell people what to do.”
These people then kept trying to move us, making up bullshit rules about how deep the tent pegs for the gazebo could be, but my mum remained steadfast. She called them out and they left.
They had been lying the entire time.
The infamous Milgram experiment in the 1960s showed us that we will do horrible things to others simply because someone who looks official told us to. This obedience is frightening common. The simple fact is, nearly all of you reading this regularly obey people just because they appear to be in charge.
You do what your boss says without noticing that he’s asking more than you’re contractually obliged to provide. You do what police say without knowing for sure that they have the legal rights to make these demands. You do what your parents suggest without realising that you’re not a kid anymore.
We often submit to Authority without question. We do what we're told just because someone looks official, or has a certain title before their name. But the fact is most people don't have any real power over you at all.
The next time someone tells you what to do, trying pushing back a little. Force them to use real power rather than implied authority.
You’d be surprised at how often it’s a bluff.
For more on this topic, check out my longer video “The Darkness That Comes Before: Managing the Manipulation from Your Own Mind”