Sunday, February 7, 2010

Notes on Authority

Reevah said we all feel ambivalent about everything, including our parents - our first experience with authority and authority figures.

Nobody wants to be the "mean mommy."

Fred Jones, clinical psychologist and author of a classroom management book called, "Tools for Teaching," came up with a word to describe the refusal by authority figures (parents, teachers, supervisors) to use their authority appropriately, weenie-ism.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, likes to be told what to do. We all want to do what we want, when we want. Most of us deal with this pretty well by doing things before we are told.

Consequently, we don't like telling anyone else what or what not to do. Our dilemma is that sometimes it is our responsibility, as authority figures, to do so (no! you can't make me act like a grown up!):

  • Your child doesn't want to...(fill in the blank, but homework for example)
  • Authority figure(s): parents, caregivers, step-parents, foster parents, etc.
  • A student is bullying another student in class.
  • Authority figure(s): teacher, administrator, law enforcement (depending on the severity of the bullying!)
  • A parent is abusing their child.
  • Authority figure(s): Department of Children's Services (DCFS)/Child Protective Services (CPS), judge
  • Spouse is abusing their partner.
  • Authority figure(s): law enforcement, judge
Authority gets a bad rap because it can be misused or abused - everyone has a story or vivid memory of an experience like this. So is authority all bad and always to be avoided? That doesn't sound very integrated or balanced, either.
What if instead of refusing to make and enforce firm and appropriate rules consistently (as a parent, teacher, SW, supervisor, etc.), we agreed to use our authority judiciously and assertively for the common good? What would our relationships, families, classrooms, schools, organizations and communities look like then?
What if, like Fred Jones describes, all of us in authority "weenied" out?
Is it time to make peace with our own authority?
It takes a whole lot of courage to do the right thing - nobody wants to be the "mean mommy" - especially if we feel ambivalent about what is the "right thing." So maybe this is a moral crisis? We don't know what is the "right thing" to do?
As a Child Protective Services Worker, I was very ambivalent about my role as an agent of social control versus agent of social change. Then I realized that the abusive parent might not "change" without coming under the "control" of the court. When this dawned on me, I was able to embrace my institutional power to act for the common good.

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