I've been thinking about authority. What is real authority, really? I think when it's authentic it just shows up, the way water runs downhill. Authority shifts positions within a group of people depending on the topic at hand because different people know more or less about different things because we've all had different experiences. Of course that fluidity takes humility, paying attention and a willingness to change roles within the group. If we're identified unquestioningly with certain roles then we get stuck with a preset authority figure who's supposed to know all the things. Longterm I think this kind of structure leads to distrust because it's unstable and becomes defensive - a whole lot of small, fortified kingdoms ruled by fools, so to speak.
Traditionally in our culture, authority has been assumed to belong to men. Man as head of household, man as boss of company, man as hero and God. Another traditional view is that adults always have authority over children and are supposed to tell children all about life. All of this is changing as we learn more and it's a sloppy, unsophisticated dance we're doing to clarify who in the group really does knows more, from actual lived experience, about the topic at hand.
For me, the dance step that is most sloppy right now is - When to interrupt? And how? Noticing when either I or another person has fallen asleep behind the authority wheel and is driving into a bog. I can't rightfully complain if I'm sitting in the car letting it happen and I definitely can't complain if we end up in a bog that I drove us to. Ok, if I'm getting clear that complaining is not helping then what else should be done? How can I interrupt this momentum so that we can go somewhere better than a bog? Oh, another thing that doesn't work all that well anymore is just leaving. I get into the habit of looking for my exit when I feel trapped in a bad authority situation, but over time I notice that if I leave this one I'll just show up in another one. What do I really want? I want to dance with authority! I want to dance with the people I'm with in this moment and the next. There are many ways to dance but my favorite way involves some agreed upon structure and then a lot of freedom and improvisation within it. The model of authority is changing, and it creates a more trusting world as we each step into and out of authority with more and more ease.
I was confiding in my journal this morning about a situation (or a few) that happened on Christmas and came to looking at a value that lives in me about authority, leadership, sharing of power among people. I did pretty well with standing in my own shoes, and there were plenty of times when I caved in too. It’s been turning over in my head for the past few days and I’m imagining those icky moments, having done them differently. What would that have looked and felt like? It always comes back to the most obvious purpose for people gathering - connection, belonging, friendship. I can imagine going ahead and assuming my own authority in a way that breaks the spell and invites a new level of connection and honest relationship to grow among us. I can also recognize those moments when I actually did that through my own dense conditioning and it wasn’t absolutely perfectly amazing but it was good. You see, my historical habit around authority has been to follow whoever's habit it is to lead. I've tested it for years and that model does not typically create a thriving situation! So, time for something happier.
Ten years ago a friend quoted these lyrics to me as poetry and anthem and they pop into my head from time to time:
But don't give yourself away