Recently, I read a fascinating article about the idea of authoritarianism, and it really got me thinking. After Nazi Germany, we understand all too well what can happen when a collective mass of people agrees to follow one leader whose ideas can be extremely harmful and destructive to the entire society, or even the entire world. We also know what can happen to any particular individual or group of people who should happen not to agree with any such authoritarian leader, or who should be singled out by them.
If the leader is acting from a very unhealthy mental/emotional state, which history shows is very common with many of these authoritarian leaders, likely those who disagree will face being ostracized or killed for voicing their opposing views. This has happened way too many times throughout history, and it continues to happen throughout the world today.
That’s why I want to ask you this question today: Whose authority do YOU follow?
Here’s why I’m posing this question. In a society such as ours, it often takes a large number of people to give control to any one particular authoritarian leader. (I’m not speaking here of those individuals in other societies who personally take it upon themselves to overthrow or kill their own government leaders and take control for themselves.) So if it takes a large number of people to elect an authoritarian leader, wouldn’t it make sense to understand how each individual becomes a part of that large number?
If each individual made a different choice, the chances for this kind of leader getting elected would greatly decrease. Because of that, and because of the very sensitive and emotional US political climate these days, no matter whose side anyone is on, I want to encourage you to think about this question. Whose authority do YOU follow?
Most of us learn as children to follow the authority of our parents, teachers, or any other adult figure who we find ourselves around often. We learn at a very young age that if we don’t follow these authority figures and do what they say, we generally face punishment that we don’t like. So we learn to follow these people and do what they say. When we are children, we don’t often question if what these people say is really good for us or not. We are more concerned with getting our basic survival needs met. So even if those in our authority tell us to do things that may ultimately not be the best for us, for our health, or for our growth, we learn to listen and do these things anyway.
Because we humans are so great at doing things that become habitual, we often carry this authoritarian way of thinking and acting well into our adulthood. Some people carry this way of living throughout their lives. It never occurs to them to question those who they now give authority over their adult lives, whether they realize it or not. They simply continue the pattern they learned as children. They find someone to tell them what to do, and they do it. Sometimes they do indeed do it for survival reasons, even as adults. Other times, they do it because they have never considered another way.
So, whose authority do YOU follow, now in your adult life? And have you given thought to whether following this authority is actually good for you? Or have you outgrown that authority, and perhaps now it is hurting you?
I want to pose some more specific questions to you. I want to ask you to consider these questions without judging yourself. My intention here is not to prompt you to feel judged in any way for any way you may or may not think, feel, or act. We are all motivated to do the things we do in our lives for so many reasons. Some of these reasons we are aware of, and others we may not be. That is why I simply invite you to consider these questions openly and objectively.
As you consider these questions, see if you can answer a simple yes or no to each of them. If other feelings arise as you consider them, just take a quick mental note of those feelings. Notice them, but see if you can allow yourself not to become stuck in any of them.
Do you work for other people? If so, do you follow the authority of your boss or other supervisors?
Do you have a spouse or a partner in your life? If so, do you consider that person to be more of an equal to you, or do you act in a less equal role with them? Do you do what they tell you to in your life? Do you do any of these things out of fear at all? (Fear of hurting or disappointing them, fear of them hurting you physically or emotionally, etc.)
Do you have parents living whose authority you follow now as an adult? In other words, do your parents have a great influence on the decisions you make in your life at this point? If your parents have passed on, or even if they are still alive, can you hear their voices in your head when it comes to making decisions in your life? Do those voices have influence over the way you make your decisions?
Do you have a religious or spiritual authority that you follow? (For this purpose, I define this authority as an idea of God, or a person who you believe is God—Jesus, Buddha, Allah, etc.) If so, do you follow this authority because you always have done so since you were a child? Do you follow it because the rest of your family or your closest friends do too? Is there any part of you that follows this authority for fear of what may happen if you choose not to follow it? (Eternal punishment, family or community shaming or ostracizing, etc.)
Do you follow any particular political leader, group, or party? Do you follow this party or group because others close to you also follow them? Do you follow them primarily because you are afraid of certain things? (Terrorism, any other type of “-ism" or division, hope that they can somehow "fix" a poor economy, lack of jobs.)
Do you follow any particular media sources? Any particular influential public voices? If so, what really motivates you to follow them? What feelings arise within you as you listen to or read what these voices are saying to you? How do these feelings affect your daily life?
All of these questions involve examples of what I will call “external authority.” These kinds of authority come from places outside of ourselves. Sometimes external authority can be very beneficial to us, such as when we are told as children to look carefully before crossing a street. As we have become adults now, however, I believe that it is beneficial for each of us to take a look at the kinds of authority we follow in our lives and ask ourselves what is really motivating us to follow those authorities.
For instance, if we notice we are following the same authority figures that we did as children, it may be time to ask ourselves: Is this what I, now a fully functioning adult, really believe?
Am I being swayed by my family’s or my friends’ beliefs? What do I really think about these particular authority figures? If there were no possible threat I could think of, (no rejection from family or friends, no threat of any kind of punishment, no collective fear such as terrorism, etc.), what would I really, truly, personally feel about these authority figures? Does following these authority figures now really make me feel good about myself and my life? Is my motivation for doing so primarily based in love? Is it based in fear?
Engaging in this process doesn’t mean that we have to let go of following any external authority figures, although we may choose to do so if we wish. This is simply a process to engage in so that we can come to better know our own sense of “internal authority—“ that part of us which we feel is most true to who we currently are and have become now as adults.
We may choose to follow any varied proportion of external and internal authority. I simply feel that we owe it to ourselves, after years of living in a society that teaches us to turn so heavily to external authority figures, to take another look at who we really follow and why.
If many of us choose to ask ourselves these kinds of questions, we may just find that as a collective society, we can choose leaders who will attempt to lead us in healthy, rather than destructive, directions. Remember, history shows that authoritarian leaders often lead mass societies in very destructive directions, and they hurt or destroy a lot of people in the process. Do we want to keep repeating a history like that, or do we want a better world for all of us to live in, no matter how differently we each look at our world? Will we be led by our childhood senses of authority, which are often based only in survival and fear? Or will we allow ourselves to open our hearts and create a better world?
The choice is truly, truly up to each and every one of us.
Whose authority do YOU follow?
Did you like this reflection? If so, please share it on Facebook or other social media!
Just copy and paste this link!
And feel free to leave a comment about it below. You never know who may be inspired by what you share.
Want to learn more fascinating truths about yourself that you may not even know you believe? ;) Check out my first book here.
No matter what, always remember this: You are deserving, you are worthy, and you are good enough. Keep being you, keep shining, and keep growing!
With great love,