Courage – under whose authority?

Today’s world has trouble defining courage, but it has just as hard a time defining authority.

Mine was defined at home. When I was growing up, I learned to have a respect / fear of my father. He was the man in charge; the king of the household; the last line of defense at home. Essentially, he was the disciplinarian. His word was law and if I abided by his law, then I could live peacefully under his roof. That sounds fair enough, right? My mother had authority too, but it was a different kind of authority. She was more the hand to hold; the warm embrace; the ear to lend your voice to – she was the lifeline. And if I came to her with an issue that needed comforting, I could live more peacefully under her roof. Once again, sounds like a fair enough arrangement, right? Yes, it does – when things are running like they’re supposed to.

But, what if they’re not? The result looks much different. If my father’s law is skewed and his discipline unjust, then I feel the ramifications. If my mother’s lifeline is damaged or absent, then I feel the ramifications there too. And the consequences look like this: my idea of authority has been crushed. Moreover, my idea of a loving authority has been shattered. For if the people who made me – the ones who watch over me daily – can’t handle their own business, then what right do they have to govern mine?

And this is where it starts. That disillusionment with authority; that break from looking up to people and the conscious/unconscious decision to look elsewhere for guidance. Because let’s be honest, everybody’s parents mess up at some point – there are no “perfect parents” in the world; as good as mine were and are, they still had their bad days. So depending on how “bad” a parent messes up, the more work it’ll be for the child later. The more work it’ll be to fix the now disjointed views of a child who, after years of soaking in the brokenness of a broken home, has fractured more than than their view of parental-child relationships – they’ve fractured the very nature of how the world was meant to operate.

Whoa – back up, right? That sounds like a lot of pressure for a parent. But hey, let’s not forget – it’s a human life we are talking about; not a truck or a vacuum sweeper. These things, when fractured, can be easily replaced. The same cannot be said for a human life.

But, here’s the good news: fractures are mendable things. A fractured bone, for example, doesn’t have to stay that way. In fact, a broken bone will do whatever it can to get back to its original state. The only thing it requires is time; time to heal and time to mend. However, if the bone is disturbed too early, then it may become further disjointed and take even more time to heal – a more painful experience than the first.

This becomes even more delicate when dealing with authority. Bad experiences with authority figures can leave a person severely jaded; stricken with little desire to trust authority ever again. And the thought of ever being “ruled” by another is seen as detestable; to be avoided at all costs. So, in order to cope with this, a peer-to-peer kind of authority is established. “You don’t tell me how to live and I won’t tell you either” is the new mantra. And if we abide by these rules, we can all live peacefully under the same roof.

Yet again, this sounds reasonable and fair, doesn’t it? It does and yet, this concept breaks down rather quickly. For if there is no one to lead, no one to establish what is best practice, then the roof ceases to exist. What’s more, one person’s idea of best practice will inevitably collide with someone else’s. And another with another. And another with another and so on. The result being the exact opposite of the original intent; the individual’s desire to be more important than the whole splits everything into pieces, which will leave people feeling isolated rather than unified.

So what to do? Well, it takes courage. Not just courage to lead, but courage not to follow. And the “not to follow” does not mean to reject authority – it merely means to reject the notion of authority being a bad thing and to reject your own perceptions as being the ultimate reality. Children reject authority because they want to have their way all the time. As adults, this concept should be understood as not practical. Or better yet, not fulfilling. But, by today’s standards, embracing this understanding has been forgotten. God’s governing hand is only relative and as long as I can Google an answer, I’m better off. No, Googling answers does not require courage. Neither do blanket comments or fact-dumping. Courage is carving in stone, not writing in sand.

Imagine a home where your stay is just and your stay is kind. It’d be a joyous home, would it not? Not the kind of place you’d want to leave. But, you can’t get to that place without first having a response – to recognize there is more to be courageous about than your own agendas.

Sounds reasonable and fair, does it not?

Pressure: Authority and Writing

Authority figures get a bad rap nowadays. People tend to have issues with authority as it is, but today’s authority figures have it rough. Social Media creates many voices in the crowd, making it even more difficult to decide. Often, the loudest voice gets the most attention – regardless if it’s true or not. And if it isn’t true, then there’s a strong chance it will soon be usurped by another. That’s the hope – that the real authority will show up and take their place. But, as I stated before, it’s difficult to figure that out in a sea of so many screaming voices. So how does anyone determine proper authority and how to respond accordingly?

Well, people of influence tend to fall into one of two categories: titled and untitled. The former being those who yield a stance of known influence – like business owners, parents, guardians, or even government and city officials – and the latter being those who hold influence but don’t always exert it – like entertainers, musicians, celebrities and hey, even writers. The former – titled leaders – help to establish order. These individuals are recognized publicly without question. A captain holds rank over a lieutenant and a manager holds authority over an associate. What you see, is what you get. Untitled authority figures are trickier to spot. Their state of influence is relative based on their appeal. How much people like them – and how many – will affect their overall state of authority and influence. Like, the Red Hot Chili Peppers versus an unknown artist – one will probably have more fans than the other. But, that doesn’t mean it will always be that way. An untitled authority figure’s status can change or fluctuate on the drop of a dime – all dependent, once again, on the appeal they have to the public.

I find this arrangement to be most intriguing because the two clash on a regular basis. How many times do you see an issue arise yet only gain momentum once the people of influence weigh in on ‘what’s best practice’ for handling the situation? Those who have studied the issue – the ones who should know what’s best – give their advice. The president of a company hands down the orders; a politician signs a law; or a parent deals out discipline. The orders are clear and all under the hood of influence are affected. Then, the voices start. An untitled authority figure may step in, take a stance and suddenly, appeal is marked as being as important as credibility. It happens all the time. In the smallest of circles, it happens all the time. And to someone who feels their voice is minimal, the pressure to follow is huge.

Who do you side with? What has your personal experience been? Who is to say what is right in such matters? People will ask these questions of themselves and most often will side based on one crucial detail: how the outcome will benefit them individually. This is why appeal has so much power. If there is personal appeal, a person will want that way to be right – even when it’s not, forgoing what is likely true just because the orders don’t align with what suits them.

This makes navigating the world a tough place. Wanting order and authority, but only wanting it on our terms. And somewhere in that mess, a unique pressure is pushing and pulling us in either direction. From a writing standpoint, this place of tension is where I go to war. Words are the tools of my trade. They breathe life into why I do what I do. And to know that I get to be a part of that struggle is exciting. Sounds like a ton of pressure but what I’ve discovered is that authority and appeal do line up if you allow it. That you won’t always get to do what you want right away and you won’t always agree with the one who is in charge. But, the question to ask yourself is this: is their influence true? Is there a truth in what they say that is greater than my own personal needs or wants?

And if you can answer that question definitively, then the pressure of siding with authority becomes a little less difficult to manage.