At 42 years of age my understanding of authority has evolved and I wanted to get these thoughts down.
When you’re a kid there are people you just have to obey without question. This would include: your parents, teachers, priests, adults and now that I think about it, just about everyone except other kids. We are programmed to bow to authority from a very young age. This programming changes somewhat as we grow older. We realize we don’t need to obey everyone anymore but many ‘authority figures’ still hold much power over adults whether they consciously accept it or not.
In my line of work I deal with people who hold positions of authority in large, well-known companies. In the business world these relationships are mostly cordial but there are times when the ‘authority’ aspect starts to creep in to negotiations. These take the form of something like this.
“I work for so and so famous company, I’ve done it for decades, negotiations like these are done in my sleep and due to all of my incredible experience I know what I’m doing and you will need to do this because I am the expert!”
When I was younger this might have been intimidating and I would have been unsure of myself. This approach might work with a lot of adults but with 13 years of experience and having a lifetime of learning, world travels and other character building activities, this type of power play doesn’t have much of an effect on me anymore. I simply state my case with plenty of numbers to back it up, in a nice, cordial way. I offer to help where I can while putting a stake in the ground to let them know I’m not budging and have the data to show why.
I’m going through this type of interaction this week and it made me think about other parts of life where people put on a stance of authority in the belief it will make a person acquiesce to their will. It make me think about the nature of authority as well. The truth is spelled out beautifully by a Game of Thrones quote.
“Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick. A shadow on the wall. And a very small man can cast a very large shadowLord Varys
This is true in the philosophical sense and on the scale of society as a whole but not so for the individual.
Let’s back up and talk about childhood again. When you’re a kid everyone is an authority figure except kids the same age. Everyone holds power over you. You live with your parents and they feed, clothe and shelter you. They are the foundation of the power structure, the providers and protectors in a world you know very little about. You have to go to school everyday and must do what they say as well otherwise they can kick you out. If they kick you out then you’re in trouble with the parents. Even older kids are authority figures because they have more life experience and are physically stronger. They can make you do something and if you don’t could make your life very difficult.
As adults we start to question ‘authority,’ yet this programming is very hard to undo and ‘authority’ still very much retains influence over the majority of adults.
Here are a few examples:
- Religious leaders – Adults for the most part will still do what their religious leaders tell them to. It is as though their common sense is checked at the door when they enter a church. Here they are, fully grown thinking adults worshiping some unseen, unknown “God” because religious leaders told them too since birth. God is the ultimate authority and these religious folk are the representatives of God. The laypeople need guidance and you must get that through the priest! Don’t think you can just do it on your own, you need to be at church, tithe 10% of your salary and don’t mess up or you could be excommunicated aka not allowed to talk to God anymore. Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? That is because it is ridiculous. And it is absolutely depressing how many adults (albeit older adults) still believe in this nonsense.
- Political Leaders – This has changed in the past decade. Political leaders held much more authority before but it depends on which ‘team’ you’re on now. People will more fiercely obey the leaders of their own team while ridiculing everything about the leaders of the other team. This is evident in having a con-man like Trump in the Presidency. He could beat up a woman in the oval office and his supporters would probably say how it was totally acceptable to do so and pull out an example from the Old Testament. I bet if he told his followers to boycott flower shops because flowers are for Liberals that half his base probably would!
But on a more sinister note, just look at every time America goes to war. The reasoning doesn’t really matter, it is the authority figures that said we have to go to war so a large portion of Americans will be all for it. Hell, ask any American on the street if they are in favor of bombing (insert made up foreign sounding country) and a good amount would enthusiastically agree!
- Doctors – In the past, most people would follow the advice of the doctors and this still holds true. However, with the vast corruption of money and profits into the profession we’re seeing a backlash. The most visible form of this backlash is in the anti-vaccine movement. Authority figures (aka doctors) are telling people they must take vaccines. The anti-vaccine crowd sees it all as corporate greed and like religious folk entering a church, check their common sense and thinking capabilities at the door. They are smart now because they went on The Internet and read some stuff! Just like Republicans went on Fox News and learned some news!!! These are the C students from high school ladies and gentlemen.
- Police – You still need to do what a police officer commands you to do because he/she can put you in jail or even shoot and kill you. But what is different as an adult and understanding how the world works realizes that the police department is not an ultimate authority as many think. Police departments are held accountable by political leaders. I just read a story of how the vice squad on Sullivant Ave. in Columbus, Ohio was disbanded after an officer shot a prostitute. As it turned out he was using his position for sex by threatening to arrest the prostitute if she didn’t have sex for free with him.
As an adult I see that police do not have absolute power and the individual police person is just a human with a very difficult and necessary job that really isn’t making much money. Police are a vital part of any functioning society but again, their authority isn’t absolute.
- Priests – The priest used to be he top authority figure in the community I grew up in. Nobody questioned the priest and if they did, they did so quietly. Now that I’m 42 I am very disappointing that adults before me gave the priests such unquestioning power. I’m now the same age as many priests and there is something wrong with all of them. They are aberrations of men, something that should be done away with. There are so many different churches, so many religious leaders and the majority of humanity follows them like sheep. They can even abuse kids and the sheep will cover it up all the while still going to church on a weekly basis. These are adults who not only have bent to authority but are completely broken by it. We could compare them to Trump supporters. Trump supporters will support him no matter what he does. Religious folks will support their church and priests even if they molest children, start wars, and cling to ancient beliefs even when science has proven otherwise.
Getting back to the quote about power residing where men believe it resides, this is absolutely true for society as a whole. As an individual however, I have to follow the rules or someone could come arrest me and even put me to death. However, if the majority of society decides to strip authority from an institution this can be done but might involve some bloodshed as humans in power do not like to lose control. If all of California were to rise up and want to leave the USA Trump would probably send in the military and take out the leaders.
But when we take a look at what authority inherently is, we see that it is all just a state of mind. More often than not, other humans hold authority over us because we have allowed them to do so. In my own small world I’ll deal with many others who will be wearing their business suits, put on a business face and talk to me in a stern voice all with the intention of trying to make me believe they have authority over me. They do this to gain some advantage in upcoming negotiations. It doesn’t work anymore.