Maturity and Dealing With Authority
What does maturity mean, and how does a mature person properly
deal with authority in general and authorities in particular?
I think that we have to in some ways reject all authority if
we are to mature mentally, but I want to raise questions here
more than provide answers or opinions. So let's start with definitions.
Maturity is defined something like this in most dictionaries:
"The quality or state of being mature; fully developed."
The word "mature" has these two definitions in the
Merriam-Webster online dictionary: "Based on slow careful
consideration (a mature judgment)," and "Having completed
natural growth and development." The latter suggests completion
of mental as well as physical development, as some dictionaries
point out. It also makes the entire prospect of maturation seem
like an ever-receding goal, since perfecting or otherwise "completing"
our mental development seems unlikely in one's lifetime.
By authority I mean to refer to two related types of authority
figures. There are the police, political leaders and others who
have the power to physically force you to do what they want,
or refrain from doing what you want. The other type includes
experts, social or religious leaders, and others who claim some
authority over what is true or at least what they want you to
believe as truth. You have to decide for yourself what a mature
approach to dealing with authorities consists of, but I want
to throw a few thoughts out there and then end with a few questions.
We can see from history and experience that unthinking obedience
to authority can have tragic consequences. A mature person sees
that the verdict of ones own mind can't be safely ignored, even
when it goes against the prevailing opinion or orders of authorities
in thought or power. On the other hand, we can see that fighting
every battle makes no sense either, so we may sometimes cooperate
with authorities, perhaps even when they are doing something
that is wrong or unproductive.
Maturity, then, is not about mindlessly rebelling against
authority. That's a rather childish approach we sometimes see
in well, children or young adults. It also can't mean mindlessly
cooperating with those in power or automatically believing what
"experts" say. A mature person thinks, and chooses
when it is best to cooperate or not cooperate with authorities,
when to believe or not, according to important criteria. And
those criteria have to be essentially self-determined, because
even acting according to the criteria of others requires the
decision of whose "rules" to trust.
Here are four questions about maturity and authority, which
I leave for you to answer.
1. For a mature person, is there a moral duty to obey any
authority, whether that authority takes the form of powerful
people, laws, or written rules? Or is the morality of an action
to be determined by the one acting, whether that means obedience
2. Is there any authority on earth which can be followed safely
without thought? How would you determine this?
3. If you choose to follow any authority after careful reasoning,
rather than mindlessly, isn't that choice itself establishing
you or your mind as the ultimate authority?
4. How should you decide when to obey and when to disobey
those who are in power?