By David Hegg
Every parent comes to know firsthand that a lack of structure and discipline creates an environment of chaos in the home. Children think they want freedom from rules, but every generation eventually comes to learn that freedom is only possible where clearly recognized boundaries exist. Life without rules — without necessary levels of authority — is not freedom. It is chaos.
For millennia, societies have been grounded in the need for authority to be exercised through laws and understood societal standards. Laws were made and enforced by those in positions of authority. And while there are examples of abuse of authority and despotic authoritarianism on the part of tyrants down through history, the problem was never that of authority, but rather its abuse.
But today we are watching the erosion of a societal belief in the very existence of authority. We are becoming a nation of individuals who believe that authority is a bad thing, a power play on the part of the strong to subvert the rights and freedoms of the weak. Of course this is nonsense, but it is being promoted everywhere anyway.
Ask a public school teacher just how students today view authority in the classroom and you will hear that few kids treat instructors with the respect and reverence they deserve as those in positions of authority. Ask a coach or a supervisor about the last few generations of players and employees. You’ll find that there is a rapidly growing sense that levels of authority have evaporated in the minds of the young. Coaches, teachers, supervisors and bosses are all finding that those under their authority increasingly refuse to recognize their place, and insist that no one has the right to tell them what to do. The hierarchy has been flattened, and everything must now be a collaboration between equals.
If you are in a position of authority and have others who report to you, you know just what I am saying. You’ve probably experienced many situations where your instructions to a subordinate have been summarily rejected. Responses range from “I’ll consider it but probably will go another direction,” to “what you’re suggesting doesn’t seem to value me or my views so I’m not receiving it,” or some other nonsense that seems to be floating around today. And if you’ve been in this situation, you probably were dumbfounded the first time you encountered such bold-faced insubordination.
Now I am not in favor of dictatorial, top-down tyranny under the guise of positional authority. Certainly any who are entrusted with decision-making power over others must use that privilege with the highest standards of integrity and wisdom in place. But they must never abdicate their role to set direction and uphold the strategies and standards of the organization, even in the face of fierce opposition. That is the job of leadership.
It’s time we take our society back to one of the basic truths in life. You must prove yourself before promoting yourself. Character must precede position, and that means being willing to start on the bottom rung and work your way up with integrity, humility, a positive attitude, and an exemplary work rate. There is honor in “paying your dues.” Feeling good about yourself should come after you actually accomplish something.
In one sense, all humanity has been created equal, given that we have been made as image bearers of God himself. Yet this does not negate the need for a hierarchy of authority in the family, on the job, on the field and in society. Freedom depends on the curbing of dangerous attitudes and actions. This holds in the area of law as well as in every other arena of life. Without authority chaos reigns, relationships erode, freedom is degraded and nations fall. Our freedom in every sphere of life is both created and maintained through the proper understanding, appreciation and use of authority.
We can’t give it up, no matter what some may advocate.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.