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Intelligent Disobedience

Doing Right When What You’re Told to Do Is Wrong

By Ira Chaleff
12-minute read
Audio available
Intelligent Disobedience: Doing Right When What You’re Told to Do Is Wrong by Ira Chaleff

Intelligent Disobedience (2015) offers insight into why we’re so quick to follow orders – even when we know we shouldn’t. It gives you all the tools you need to effectively resist the rules, regulations and orders that you know are wrong or harmful – without putting yourself at risk.

  • Anyone in a leadership position
  • Parents who want their children to think for themselves
  • Entrepreneurs who want to encourage their creativity

Ira Chaleff is an author, executive coach and consultant who has been named one of the 100 “Best Minds on Leadership.” His other works include The Courageous Follower and The Art of Followership.

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Intelligent Disobedience

Doing Right When What You’re Told to Do Is Wrong

By Ira Chaleff
  • Read in 12 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 7 key ideas
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Intelligent Disobedience: Doing Right When What You’re Told to Do Is Wrong by Ira Chaleff
Synopsis

Intelligent Disobedience (2015) offers insight into why we’re so quick to follow orders – even when we know we shouldn’t. It gives you all the tools you need to effectively resist the rules, regulations and orders that you know are wrong or harmful – without putting yourself at risk.

Key idea 1 of 7

We should follow orders, but only when they are reasonable, constructive and based on legitimate authority.

Would you consider yourself to be an obedient person? Most people will say: “No! I make decisions for myself.” But imagine that you’re working in a nuclear plant, and your boss hurriedly tells you to shut off the reactor. Would you do it? Most likely you would, without any hesitation.

But why would we be so quick to follow orders in this particular case? Well, certain situations require obedience, while others don’t. For a system to demand your obedience, it must meet particular conditions.

First, systems that require obedience should have rules and orders which are “reasonably fair,” meaning both that the system is based on moral principles and that it can function properly.

In contrast, systems whose rules are arbitrary or lead to negative outcomes (such as the suffering of others) should not be obeyed.

Second, the person who gives the orders must hold their position of authority over others legitimately, and act competently.

For example, a senior doctor who gives a junior colleague an instruction during a brain operation has both competence and legitimate authority. If the junior doctor ignores her expertise, the consequences could be severe. But if the hospital janitor gives the junior doctor instructions on brain surgery (or if a senior doctor gave the janitor instructions on how to best clean the floors), then their orders aren’t based on competency or legitimate authority.

Finally, the order should be constructive.

If obeying an order would cause more harm than good, then it shouldn’t be followed. Complying with immoral orders is wrong, and the person acting upon them can be held responsible for any harm caused by their actions.

For example, those who carried out Nazi war crimes tried to hide behind the fact they were “just following orders.” This plea was ignored, and many were convicted for their terrible deeds.

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