The thing about wearing a uniform – it really changes your behaviour.

I’m guessing that a lot of you are aware of the Milgram experiment, where members of the public more willingly follow instructions if the instruction giver is wearing a uniform or other symbol of authority (follow the link for a more complete explanation – if you’ve never heard of this experiment, it and the Stamford experiment, make scary reading).

So when I am wearing my uniform I am more confident and can ‘order’ people around.  The police, firefighters and members of the public tend to do what I tell them if there is someone sick around.  Obviously I only use these powers for the force of good, but without my uniform I am a much more shy person.

I noticed this when I went to the Open Rights Group meeting.  When I arrived I knew one person there, and once I’d stopped talking to her I became an instant wall-flower.  It’s something that I need to change and change pretty quickly.

But there is a flip-side to wearing an ambulance uniform, you also become more passive.

If I were in the street and some drunk tried to hit me – I’d punch them on the nose.  If I were verbally abused – I’d soon be ‘in their face’ shouting and ranting along with the best of them.

Yes, I know one paragraph ago I said I was a wall-flower – but this is in a social situation, when my temper is raised it is a terrible thing to behold.

But with the uniform I’ll gently restrain the drunk trying to hit me and I’ll ignore any verbal abuse that is thrown at me.  Unfortunately the anger that I feel is then turned inward, which I am guessing is not a healthy thing to do.

I wonder if it is the uniform, or the risk of having a complaint put in about me that turns me into such a wimp.  It might just be that I spend so much time trying to keep patients calm, that I’m feeling very mellow when people abuse me.

Tomorrow I’ll explain why I started thinking about the way I take abuse without defending myself…

9 thoughts on “Uniform”

  1. It comes with any form of authority. You have to show everyone around you – who may be running around like headless chickens – that you know what to do and you do it in a way that reassures those who do not understand the situation. If you were to lose your rag then all about would become ten times worse. Its having someone around they can turn to who radiates calmness in a crisis that is most of the battle. Its called acting.

  2. Filling a role, I agree. It's not just being the authority, it's being responsible- as signaled by the uniform. Yes, I am trained and capable, and I am here to serve, and you can trust me.Part of why it is so evil to use a uniform for personal gain or power trips. Some deep hardwired aspect of our human psyche, in crisis just follow those in power, odds are that is the best choice.

  3. You're absolutely right.I was sitting in church one day, towards the end of a rather lively service, and a bloke ran in shouting “Will you all get out now please?”

    We all just looked at him, wondering if this was another innovative bit of the service, and he continued “You need to get out of the building. There's a fire”. He seemed very perplexed that we were not jumping up and following his instructions immediately.

    We wandered outside and there was indeed a fire – a digger had hit a gas main and it had gone up in ten-foot flames right outside the church. Later on as we were all hanging around amongst the other evacuated locals, the bloke explained that he was a policeman but had forgotten when he ran into the church that he wasn't wearing his uniform!

  4. The bloke also said “please” rather than “GET OUT! THERE'S A FIRE!”And of course you're calm, restrained and rational, Tom, when “under color of authority.” (There's bound to be a good legal term for it, even if that's not it.) You have to be. Anything else is an abuse of power. It's got nothing to do with being a wimp.

  5. You're too right.Also noticed the wee Neds also think that you are both blind, deaf and thick if you wear a uniform – nursing.

    They'll sit and boast about their drug exploits, how much they've conned the social, complain the taxi that brought them too the unit was a) too early, b) too late – organised by the Social,that the pram they got them wasn't trendy enough etc.

    Ask them directly if they take drugs and they deny it – at the same time sweating buckets, shaking, unable to focus, all the signs you get with junkies (we call it gauching – anyone else got a good descriptive for it)

    Its as if wearing a uniform sometimes gives folk the idea that they've got the right to abuse you.

  6. It's actually comforting to hear you say that. .?.. I have a couple of different jobs which I have a uniform for, and well my regular job 'over the phone'. I've no problem 'not being shy' in these situations. Though to take away the uniform, and that's a whole different story.I like/agree with Joan's post too, the concept of what you are is more the focus than who you are. People tend more (but not completely) to look at the uniform than say the sex/nationallity of the person wearing it, and that in itself can be an advantage.

  7. You'll all say that this could be an abuse of the uniform, but I tend to be the opposite when I work in my bar. We often have trouble when we glass collect because people won't get out of the way, even after you've asked nicely and then shouted. It sounds nasty, but when there's no glasses on the bar and you're being yelled at because you can't serve people, you start to get more 'proactive' when glass collecting. In my bar uniform I have no problem in pushing people out of my way, gently knocking them with a tray of glasses, or conveniently spilling beer on their feet. It's harsh but it works. In my uniform I never get a backlash either. Take the uniform from the barmaid and I get ignored even more when I glass collect – yet I wouldn't dare be 'proactive' without the protection of the workplace!I think that makes sense.

  8. that's not a sign of weakness or malleability. that's a sign that the work you do (not the job, or the uniform) mean something to you. the right thing, i'd say. you're not compromising by wanting to neutralize conflict and confrontation when you're on the job. you're doing your job as your job should be done. if you were in a situation that really required you to step up to the plate and be aggressive when you were on shift, sure–you'd do it. i reckon. i hope you don't doubt that?this harks back (or forward) to your next post. but people like you wearing uniforms are the ones who're going to change people's opinion of people who wear uniforms. know what i mean?

    some jobs, you don't always see people at their best. some jobs, you're practically guaranteed that you'll see people at their worst.

    you're a good guy.

    if i ever need EMT when i'm in your neck of the woods, i hope you're on duty.

    i always get something good out of this journal when i read it. can't say that about many blogs. thanks for that.

  9. in my case its the fear of confrontation,that's how i see it.if i have some crazy patient,with of course crazy family i kinda cringe.i can stand up to them,boss them around but then i just feel like getting out of there as fast as i can.i don't like this kind of fights,where they can give me all the abuse they like and i supose to be the professional one and take it just because he is the customer,and of course he pays,so there we go.point made,im not the one who's right,regardless of what i do or say,or the fact that i wear that uniform.

    but my fear of shouting games comes from way far in the past,when as a kid i was the one to keep the peace,constantly waiting for the storm to come,and trying to keep it away.

    there goes my little rant-personal story:)

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