Home > Ideas and Philosophy > Healthy Disrespect for Authority

Healthy Disrespect for Authority

September 26, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments
Since becoming a supervisor in 2003, one of the expectations of the role is to be able to mentor and influence the people under you in what they can do to move forward in their careers.  If there’s one thing that I’ve been trying to teach the people who have come under me over the years, it’s about having a “healthy disrespect for authority.”  I think this is a very important skill to learn.  How I describe it is controversial, and so I think it merits some discussion on what I mean by it. 
When I talk about having a “healthy disrespect for authority,” I don’t mean being out of line and outright disrespectful to one’s superiors.  That’s just very rude and very wrong.  These people worked hard to get where they are now, and at least out of respect for the office or responsibility they carry, one must afford them the respect they deserve.  (Not unless, of course, the Dilbert Principle was applied in their case. )  No matter how evil they may be, at the end of the day they are still fellow human beings who deserve to be treated with respect, even if they don’t do the same for those under them; don’t sink to their level if that’s the case, be better than them!  This is the respect everybody deserves whether they are the boss or not. 
So, what exactly do I mean by having a “healthy disrespect for authority”?  I try to teach people two things: 
1. Fight for what you know is right.
I don’t care if I’m getting pressure from the most senior member of upper management to do something.  If I’m so right about something, then I’ll still be so right about it.  And if he’s so wrong about something, then he’ll still be so wrong about it – no matter how hard and loud he screams, it won’t change that fact. 
My superior can use his authority to override my decision if he wants – but I’m not going out quietly.  If I know I’m right about something, then I will refuse to fade away in silence! 
The truth will eventually come out, and my superior will be held accountable for his error. 
2. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.
Nobody likes a contrarian; actually you don’t have to bitch and complain about everything, especially for the smallest of things – but do that for the things that really matter.  The things that matter are those that are in everybody’s best interest. 
Choose your battles wisely.  There are battles that are worth fighting for to the bitter end, and then there are those that, ultimately, are not really worth the time and effort to win; these are the Pyrrhic victories that can and should be avoided altogether.  If you can live with something then you know the battle to change it is not worth fighting for. 
Not drinking the Kool Aid is closely related to knowing and being right about something.  If you know something is utterly stupid and deserves resistance, then for your own and everyone’s good, speak up and fight it back.  Being a contrarian can cause one to be in a world of pain, but it will be a bigger pain for everyone if no one speaks up and fights back on mediocre thinking. 
Don’t drink the Kool Aid because you want to be a contrarian for the sake of being a contrarian; this is not the right motivation and ultimately because of that your resolve will waver. 
Ultimately, not drinking the Kool Aid means you should have your own opinion on something worth giving a damn about because things are not right or could be better.  Disagree and raise concerns if you know you have a valid point because that shows you care about it that much. 
In summary: Make a stand and do the needful: Resist what you see is monumentally wrong and stupid.  Oftentimes this is the only way for the truth of the matter to come to the surface and get wider visibility.  Challenge authority when you know there is something wrong. 
And that is how you have a “healthy disrespect for authority.” 
From Another Perspective
To be fair, you need to temper being too enthusiastic about “disrespecting” authority with a few things worth considering:
1. Watch your pride.
The people in authority (usually? more like must) know what they’re doing otherwise they wouldn’t be where they are now.  Be honest and humble enough to be open to their point of view and recognize that they make sense when they make sense, even if what they have to say is difficult to accept.  The reality is that you don’t know everything – you don’t see the whole picture.  Try putting yourself in their position.  If you knew what they knew would you do things differently?  Chances are you’d be doing the same. 
Someday, if you work hard and smart enough, you could actually find yourself in a position of authority as well, and it is assumed anyway that you also (must!!!) know what you are doing.  Will the contrarian of yesterday actually do things better now that he is in a position of power, or just make things worse?  Some people are just good at criticizing, but when given the opportunity to do something about it, fail miserably.  The judgment and condemnation you rendered to those in authority before will now also be applied to you who are in the same position; be kind and respectful now, for someday you will want the same treatment. 
2. Think twice (and many more times) if the authority you want to “disrespect” is God.
We don’t always understand, agree and accept His commands and His will for our life; this is a result of our weak faith and weak trust in Him, and this is a reality of our fallen nature.  Just the same, ultimately He knows what’s in our best interest, and arguing with the commands of this Authority will cause us pain in the end – because of our own doing, and not because we don’t follow Him. 
I think God can punish us by actually giving us what we want, by letting us have our way with things.  It may look great to us now, but we don’t see the whole picture in His plan for our lives, and down the road we may find ourselves in deeper trouble because our will was done and not His. 
He knows what will ultimately be good for us.  All He asks of us is to trust in Him, no matter how painful and misunderstood it may be for us. 
God is definitely Someone Who knows what He is doing.
Jesus, I trust in You!
Categories: Ideas and Philosophy

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