Friday, December 19, 2008

Respect and Authority

This morning I was thinking about respect for authority and wondering if there is more, or less respect for authority than there used to be.

In my case, I think I respect authority less than I used to, mainly because I've learned, over the years, to think for myself. Any authority that I do respect must earn my respect. I do not respect authority simply because they are --or are called-- authorities.

That being said, I do not run around deliberately or flagrantly acting contrary to laws, or what the government authorities say I should do, there are other reasons that might make me act in a way that would make it appear that I do respect authority.

In the case of many laws and regulations, my reason to act in seeming conformity to them, may be simply because I feel that the complications to my life for not conforming are more than the benefit I might perceive from doing otherwise.

There is another aspect of my superficial respect for authority. I have a practice of treating most people with respect, because I respect them as people until they give me some reason to not respect them. So, I may be entirely polite and deferential to someone who might consider my actions as respect for their position where, in reality, I am simply giving them the benefit of the doubt because I don't really know them as a person.

Much of the turmoil we see in society around us these days is, I believe, due to the fact that people in positions of authority are confused with this relationship between authority and respect. The respect does not come from the authority, nor is there anything inherent in authority that leads to a person automatically respecting it.

Respect must be earned, authority can be given or taken by anyone for any good or bad reason. Much too often, authority is abused, and for that reason, people as they are more and more exposed to that abuse, tend to respect authority less. This can reach extremes where authority completely looses meaning.