Dying Daily #68: On Authority

 

Does it follow that I reject all authority? Perish the thought. In the matter of boots, I defer to the authority of the boot-maker.

Mikhail Bakunin

This quote pretty much sums up my entire perspective on authority.

It is near impossible to spend a weekend with my family without my history with authority coming up. I am much easier to deal with now, but this has taken so long to achieve there are plenty of stories about me.

I still don’t like authority and I instinctively reject it.

It’s been this way my whole life. I have to be mindful of not refusing to do something just because someone tells me to. It might be a great idea, but it doesn’t matter.

Don’t tell me what to do.

This is, of course, a stupid way to live your life, and there is nothing noble or badass about it. It’s childish.

Rejecting authority simply because it is authority is as foolish as any of the blanket discriminations we use to make our choices easier. Easier does not equal better, and is rarely actually easier in the long run.

This does not mean I am able to blindly accept authority though.

The best people are rarely put in the positions of power. Every job I have had and every institution I have been involved with has suffered from poor leadership in one way or another. People often get jobs because of who they know, because they have the right ideology, because they give a good interview and because they have put in the sufficient amount of time in another job to “earn” the spot. None of this qualifies them as a good leader or an authority on anything except knowing people and accepting ideology and giving good interviews and passing time.

None of this is saying I should be in authority, by the way. I would be a disaster.

It is even worse when you move off the concrete sidewalk.

There are so many preachers and gurus and spiritual advisors and “inspired” teachers out there who claim authority, often authority given by some higher being or realm.

They often only know what their own denomination or religion or ideology teaches, and everything they do and say passes through this lens first. They have the answer before they even know the question. And, all of this is when they aren’t out-and-out scam artists. They have an agenda from the second you start talking to them, no matter how much they say they don’t. What they advise is skewed from the beginning. I have been fortunate to know a great number of really good ones, but they are still boot-makers. The best of them will admit this. As a counselor, I am a boot-maker. Don’t ask me about investing your money or how to fix your car.

So how do we determine who to listen to? Who do we follow?

My general rule is that no one has a blank check as far as authority goes. I have yet to meet anyone who knows everything, or is competent in every area. I try to find people who excel at something, and get their advice. I assess if they are excelling by the results I see, not by what they say. It is easy to claim knowledge or wisdom, but you can’t fake results for very long.

I ask myself what a person’s agenda might be before sitting down with them at all. If I disagree with the agenda it doesn’t mean they have nothing to offer, only that I need to be aware of the agenda as we talk.

I actively and intentionally submit to people with wisdom in the areas they have this wisdom. I don’t reject authority on the basis that it is authority.

I don’t let the boot-maker tell me how to build a ship either though.