Rethinking AUTHORITY

A conversation between Joe Dispenza and Gregg Braden touched on the challenges of increasingly dangerous, polarizing times and what I’ve described as the leadership deficit.

Authority, they observed, is shifting.

I agree.

As prelude to a deeper look into what this means for us, I’m posting here a 2000 essay which explores the full-spectrum potential of the authority-word. Although my writing style has evolved since then, the substance remains well worth your attention.

King

ESSAY 7. AUTHORITY

Christ was one of the greatest mystics of all time. He knew everything that has been ever said in the Eastern traditions. When Moses asked God, who are you? God said, I AM that I AM. Christ in the Gospel of John says, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” The very word Abraham comes from the Eastern word Brahman, which means the primordial being. . . So when you start looking, as paleo-linguistic anthropologists do, at the common roots of the various religions and traditions, you find that it’s all universal. Truth has to be universal. It can’t be your domain or my domain. Deepak Chopra, transcript, Larry King Live

Those who are adept in social intelligence can connect with people quite smoothly, be astute in reading their reactions and feelings, lead and organize, and handle the disputes that are bound to flare up in any human activity. They are the natural leaders, the people who can express the unspoken collective sentiment and articulate it so as to guide the group toward its goals. — Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence

Archibald Garrod risked a conjecture that would reveal him to be a man far ahead of his time, somebody who had all but unknowingly put his finger on the answer to the greatest biological mystery of all time: what is a gene? Indeed, so brilliant was his understanding of the gene that he would be long dead before anybody got the point of what he was saying. — Matt Ridley, Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters

THE FRONT

Definitions of authority span the Life Wheel continuum from mundane to sublime. We therefore get meanings mixed up and speak at cross-purposes. The ancient derivation refers to the Creator, the author. In English, the meaning shifts to the power or right to give commands, enforce obedience, take action or make final decisions.

It changes again to mean the power delegated to another. Further diminished, it becomes a quote supporting an opinion or action. In government, authority refers to those with the power or right to enforce orders and laws. It can also mean an expert, someone with knowledge in a specialized field whose opinion is reliable. Lastly, authority means assurance coming from personal experience.

It’s important to know what standard justifies each type of authority. Which authorities may legitimately exercise what kinds of influence, and by what right?

Traditionally, biological parents, the first authors of our physical form, are the original human authorities, taking responsibility for instilling values and governing childish behavior. After coming of age at 18, however, each adult is responsible for choosing which authorities to accept and follow. For the fortunate, bonds of gratitude, affection and mutual support sustain family ties.

In addition, however, we begin to look to other authorities for education, leadership and support. Communities grounded in commitment to common beliefs, goals and friendship can enlarge or replace family circles. Command of a particular subject qualifies the expert.

In the United States and other democratic countries, popular vote gives legislators authority to write laws. In bureaucratic military and government agencies, as well as in private corporations, rank — regardless of character or motives — legitimizes power over subordinates.

Deeper than credentials and social sanctions, however, is the inner authority called conscience which is deliberately invoked by working with the I Ching. It’s the innate sense of timing within each of us. It warns when and how to act and when to keep still, when to seize and run with opportunity and when to side-step danger.

In sages, authority is the fruit of self-discipline and direct experience. As Daniel Goleman suggests, “natural” leaders possess a cultivated knack for knowing what others need along with the ability to effectively coordinate individual gifts to meet group goals.

The gift for insight doesn’t, however, translate automatically into leadership ability. Those like Archibald Garrod – brilliant but lacking the communication skills to help their neighbors “get from here to there” – may inspire admiration.

But it takes a true teacher to bring the next generation of followers along. This requires a marriage of words, competence and consistent action, the ability to speak with clarity and live according to one’s beliefs. Christ is the ultimate example of such a teacher.

Most of us cherish the memories of authority figures whose lives have touched and improved our own — respected leaders whose accomplishments, example and encouragement have inspired us to honor and lovingly live the law.

THE BACK

The flip-side of authority is unauthorized abuse of power. To the extent those with delegated decision-making power are unqualified by inner experience to represent the ultimate author, the true spirit of authority is violated.

The murderous MacBeths in Shakespeare’s play are a famous example of tragic lust for power. Misled by dark-side mediums into violating the code of hospitality, they kill the sleeping king within their castle walls to usurp his throne. In so doing, they bring down both the kingdom and themselves.

Authority and responsibility are necessarily linked. When power is sought and used without genuine regard for the intrinsic value and practical interests of those governed, a divine as well as secular trust is violated. The scales of justice are knocked off balance, and misfortune for all concerned ensues.

 

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