Each and every one of us have some ethical standard that we are very much aware of... a conscious if you will. As adults we have a common understanding, as a culture, and individually, of the difference between right and wrong. We also commonly believe that we will stand by our values and beliefs, and that it would take a lot for us to go against them.
That sounds right... but it can't be. We can all think of examples, big and small, of average, otherwise law abiding citizens committing unethical acts of injustice and even violence on other people and even them selves. Insurance company agents decline paying customers in desperate need, teens experiment with drugs they know are bad for them, Ford dealership salesmen sold Pintos to families, police officers assist the banks in evicting families from their foreclosed homes, bar tenders serve the same alcoholics on a daily basis, managers wait till the end of the day to tell an employee they're being fired, and the list goes on. So why would someone do something they know isn't ethical? Where do we cross the line between "I would never" and "I'm just doing my job"?
That's a question Stanley Milgram - an American social psychologist, set out to understand. Milgram is best known for his appropriately named Milgram Experiments, where he set out to study people's willingness to conform based on the authority factor of influence.
I could go on and explain the experiment and what happened, but it's late, and the people at BBC were thoughtful enough to make a special on it. It's worth watching... I think you might be surprised.
So... what would you do?