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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 or disobedience?

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?


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Maturity and Authority

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