Authority is a Fearsome Gift – UPDATED

There may be something to Lisa Mladinich’s view that as a nation we have become so suspect of authority that we have lost sight of our responsibility to wield authority (or perhaps, “holy authority”) when it comes to our children or our students.

It’s not just your imagination. The problem of kids who won’t behave in class is getting worse. We can take the easy way out and blame parents, claiming they just can’t be bothered to discipline their children, but that’s like saying a person is sick because he’s coughing, and then refusing him medicine for spite. I think, for the sake of Christian compassion, that we should try to understand the root causes. But the key to solving this problem is a supernatural one.

Let’s first define the problem; parental authority is undermined by many cultural and media influences. It’s not a simple matter, but from what I can tell, parents of the last few decades have been barraged with more parenting advice than ever before, and the influence of so many conflicting “sure-fix” programs has undermined confidence in the day-to-day use of their own judgment. Marketing being what it is, hyperbole abounds; anxiety results. [...] our national consciousness developed such a kneejerk distrust of authority that we have begun to distrust ourselves as authority figures. Add to that the aforementioned cultural confusion regarding parenting methodologies and you’ve got a very stressed, insecure population of parents.

It’s a toxic cocktail, particularly for people of faith, for it is in loving obedience to God that we are called to exercise authority, to be leaders and teach His laws with conviction.

Possibly thanks to media, rhetoric and social movement, we have internalized an idea that authority is unfair, or a negative power:

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But there is a difference between laying down a hard-line, narrow and stultifying way, and establishing healthy boundaries for children. They need to know that there are limits and boundaries to which they are answerable, and I think they want to know them what those are.

Perhaps many of our current headlines would be different, if adults–especially us parents–understood their roles as primarily authoritative, rather than “pally” but yes, that is a fearsome thing.

Interesting to ponder. You’ll want to read it all.

Over at First Things, R. R. Reno is also writing about authority.

UPDATE: The news that there was a disruption in Jared Loughner’s family the very day of the heinous massacre in Arizona just makes the gut-wrenching humanity of this story even worse, and it seems to render Lisa’s column all the more timely and relevent.

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  • Joseph Marshall

    Authority is as authority does and I certainly would endorse Ms. Mladinich’s advice for those teachers and parents who are Catholic. You cannot exercise authority without believing you actually possess it and without having it clearly in your mind what rules and limits you wish to set and why.

    I do wonder, however, that anyone as young as Ms. Mladinich appears to be can be so confident of the following blanket statement: “It’s not just your imagination. The problem of kids who won’t behave in class is getting worse.” Even if she means worse than when she was a student, she surely must mean worse than in the middle of the Clinton Administration. This is a very long way from the 1960′s and I think we should consider applying the statute of limitations when tracing social cause-and-effect all the way back to The Summer Of Love and Don’t Trust Anyone Over 30. Particularly since I strongly doubt Ms. Mlasinich has very many memories of even the election of Ronald Reagan.

    Unfortunately, the view you get of student behavior when you are in front of the desk rather than behind it bears little real relationship to the view behind the desk rather than in front of it.

    Whether authority is involved or not, both teaching and parenting are transactions in power structured by the law.
    Authority has to do with what we feel about the power we exercise, and not directly about the power itself. If you believe you have it, you have it–and those over whom you have it will generally acknowledge it, whether you are a “pal” or not.

    My father was never my pal. But even if I had been his age I would never have been his pal. Our temperments, talents, and interest were no where near the same. And even though he was forceful about exercising parental power, he never wholly convinced himself of his authority, and the whole process of parenting clearly caused him a great deal of suffering in consequence. Perhaps that’s why I never fathered children.

    There is a marvelous lapel button out there that reads: In Disguise As A Responsible Adult. Most of the adults I knew in the 1960′s were clearly in disguise, and I was sharp enough to know it.

    What parents or teachers really need to do is abandon the disguise and take on the responsibility of genuinely growing up.

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