I would like to discuss a fine line that weaves through my life, and by selfish conjecture, must flow through that of others. When to submit to authority.
Obviously, I am not the first to tackle such an ancient concern. Even before hominids, animals have been questioning authority. It’s why females deny mates they deem unworthy. It’s one reason males grow horns, oversized claws, and stature to determine which one has the authority for mating rights.
Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.
-Oscar The Wilde
But it is 2018 now. While most power structures do relate in some tangential way to mating, I don’t want to simplify all power structures down to mating. There is more nuance these days.
A professor at school humiliating you in front of the class. How to react?
A higher-up at work always talking smack about you behind your back. What now?
Your spouse spending your joint bank account in an irresponsible way. Want to touch that hornet’s nest?
The spectrum of potential responses is broad, but there seems to always be a subtle binary. Do you submit or rebel?
First, let’s step back to examine what makes that teacher, colleague, or spouse an authority. Did they win some special lottery to have permission to make you feel terrible?
No. You allow this. You are accepting the rules of a game that you willingly play every time you step on the court. Not to say the game isn’t worth playing just because it causes discomfort. Especially the most potent pain of all, the bruised ego.
The benefits of the game can outweigh the bruises. The bruises can also remove any pleasure from the game. The real question is, how thick is your skin?
Blacksmiths were no strangers to discomfort from their burly profession. Hours of heat, stifling air, and constant burns were standard. After many years of being around forges and flying sparks, they become inured to such discomforts. A hot coal could land on their skin, smoldering and burning for a while before they would notice it. They would still swat it off eventually, but their tolerance for the abuses increased with their callouses. And their callouses made the job they already enjoyed, easier.
At the beginning of their tenure, an apprentice could have looked around at the older, seasoned blacksmiths, their many callouses, and determined that discomfort would not be their master. If they recalled this lesson, they would have an easier time finding an appropriate profession.
Authority does not always have to be a human to human concern. Simply grappling with the authority of reality is a constant struggle.
One of the most famous literary passage concerns itself with the struggle of accepting or fighting reality:
To be, or not to be- that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing, end them.
I’m no Shakespeare buff, but I’m feeling pretentious this Sunday. And much like the Simpsons are to modern T.V., he already wrote about everything.
Authority is inseparable from reality, but you always have the freedom to choose your specific flavor or “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”
It will be uncomfortable if you choose to confront an authority. You will lose many benefits that come from fitting into the kingdom of acceptance.
As tribal animals we are hardwired to fear ostracism. Bucking the tribe’s authority structure will certainly eject you from the security of the tribe. But, as mentioned previously, the year is 2018! There are hundreds of millions of tribes out there. Many at your fingertips via the internet. This does not mean that you should wander from herd to herd like a lost, rabid sheep. Many of the tribes out there will suit your tolerance of acceptable authority. None will fit entirely.
This applies to teachers, jobs, spouses, and governments.
You can constantly rebel in search of the perfect fit and lose your mind. You can acquiesce to the demands of others your whole life and die a dissatisfied coward.
The specific mix is up to you, but do not think you are exempt from the decision.
There is no online quiz to tell you what to do. There is only your intuition and gut feeling. When your days begin to drag into a depressed haze, you will know it is time for a change. Keep in mind that your reputation and feelings of guilt last far longer than a singular skirmish with authority.
Do not take the rules of the game personally. Simply excuse yourself politely from the court, offer advice if asked, and start searching for the next game that makes more sense.