“The wisest have the most authority.” – Plato, Greek Philosopher
One of the many natural laws which men, and particularly kids, have lost the meaning is that of authority. Parents, for example, have authority over their children, teachers over their students, and, like it or not, we are all under the authority of the law. You don’t have to look far to see outright disregard for authority, much of which stems from both a wilfulness against authority and a lack of understanding of what authority is and how it works.
In most cases, we hear about authority when it is called out for failing us in some way (i.e., politicians or CEOs failing to uphold the character of their position), but as men we need to deepen our understanding of what it means to have authority and where that authority comes from. This article is a bit different from some of the others I typically write, and the subject is rather deep. I hope to awaken an understanding of the authority we have and the seriousness of the role we play in this world. Stick with me here.
There is a difference between being in a position of authority over others and being an “authority” on a subject. The first is a role, while the later is a state of knowledge. Often called Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), authorities on a subject simply possess a type of privileged knowledge. This is not the type of authority I am speaking of. There are two means of determining whether someone is in a position of authority:
- They make decisions (Authority)
- They bear, or should bear, the consequences of those decisions (Accountability)
Let’s use politicians as an example of authority. They make decisions with their votes and, while it is hard to enforce the consequences, they ought to be held accountable for their decisions.
I have noticed a peculiar thing that happens based on how removed from us, or how close to us, the authority is, and this peculiar thing is called the excusing of authority, both in the decisions that are made and the consequences that should follow. Stay with me here and you’ll see how this applies to us as men.
The Closer the Authority, the More Excuses We Make for Failure
When a politician fails — shocker — in some obvious way that undermines their promises and most likely their character, we go after them, especially if they are not “our guy”. The same is true with our approach to CEOs, who when found out for some underhanded dealings, we could send them to prison for life and not bat an eye, even if we have nothing to do with the companies.
However, our response to those in authority over some situation whom we know personally seem to get a break. Think of that friend of yours who left his wife. How quickly do we run to his side in the argument rather than asking him to be the better man to save his marriage? Or how we would react if a friend fudged a bit on their taxes versus the owner of a large business. And, of course, when we are the ones responsible for our behavior we use every excuse under the sun to avoid our accountability.
I want to make this point as clear as can be: We, as men, in many cases, do not simply make excuses for our behavior and poor decisions, but we deny our authority altogether when we refuse or make excuses to lessen our accountability. Take a minute and let this sink in.
God is a bit different in this regard. Those who believe God to be distant will feel free to blame him for everything. In contrast, those who believe God is as near to them will typically want to know “why” he is allowing certain things to occur. They see God as the principle authority over all matters and yet are humbly subjected to his will. There are several gradations to these two extremes and, depending on the day, I find myself at one end of the spectrum or the other.
Embracing Authority Requires Embracing Accountability
The excuse that comes to mind the most when putting these thoughts together is, “ I’m only human.” As far as excuses go, this is a good one because it is both humble, accepting our limitations, but also lumps us in with a collective that is too large to hold accountable. However, it is also false. To get this, we may need to look outside of ourselves first and see the universal principle at play.
Why do we hold those in higher positions of authority more accountable than those who are closer to our level? We do this because of the assumption that those in greater positions of responsibility are more mature and should “know better”. The CEO knows when his company is cheating customers. The pastor knows it is wrong to sleep with his intern. The politician knows it is wrong to accept bribes, and so on. As men accept positions of authority, they climb the ladder, so to speak, and align themselves more closely with the one true authority over all men, God. Thus when they fail, their fall is greater in the eyes of men, and God.
Making the Connection
The disconnect with most men, including myself, is in the understanding that authority is not simply a position that is taken up, but also a role that is assigned to us. While it is easy to see those in hierarchical roles of leadership as being authorities, it is harder to see ourselves, flawed as we are, as being authorities over our families, our environment, our work, our representation of Christ, other men, our money, and so much more. God is the ultimate authority, but we have been given the role as authorities in a number of areas while here on this earth. We will also bear the consequences, both now and perhaps later.
The way in which we embrace our God-given authority is important. If we are harsh and domineering then we have missed the greater truth and opportunities that our role affords us. The truth that we are not in a position of authority because of some merited favor, but by some Godly order which was decided long before we came on the scene, and the opportunity to display servant-leadership and humility while still bearing the responsibility of our assigned role.
Let our lives be marked by care for others and an acknowledgment of our authority in this work, and not abdication of our position and a refusal to accept the consequences for our actions.