“Authority”

Recently I was privileged to have a long conversation with a former student. She was an excellent student of DBT, doing her work diligently and using text coaching very effectively. Her intellect demanded respect, even though we didn’t (and don’t) agree on many issues.

The genesis of the conversation was some comment I made a couple of years ago in passing where I said something about my beliefs on the “right to life” versus a woman’s right to choose. The abortion debate. Sigh… I am very much, even staunchly, pro-life. I realize that the subject is a complex one, but at the end of the day I just believe that the right to life is the first of the ascribed “unalienable rights.”

I was taken to task (reasonably so I must add) and was asked to be Radically Open to her point of view. I think I was, but I could hear the exasperation in her voice. It reminded me of my daughter’s exasperation when discussing similar subjects. I grew frustrated, not because we were disagreeing, but because an irony became very apparent: her desire for me to be radically open and subsequent exasperation when I “wasn’t” was a function only of her not being open to my point of view. The phrase “you’re not hearing me!” echoed in memory. What it usually means is not that I am not listening, it is that I am not agreeing and you don’t like it.

It was so similar to my daughter’s response, although Hayley is much better informed (usually.) When I mentioned actually reading the Dobbs decision and asking if she had, the answer was no. I had asked Hayley to read it also and she hadn’t, and both took what was, in my opinion, a shallow perspective on what it actually was. And I was painted by both with an unfair and, honestly, insulting brush. I actually read the decision, have thought a great deal about the topic of abortion, and have what I think is a reasonable opinion on the matter. But, and here it comes, the real problem is that I am a 65 year old white man and therefore am asserting my authority in saying they are wrong, in daring to dissent. How dare I?! I should check my privilege. I despise that phrase…

Let’s check some facts (one of my favorite DBT skills!) I am 65 years old. This implies that I have some experience. Oh hell, it doesn’t imply anything – I DO have experience. I am “white.” I do understand the privilege aspect of this but that is for another post. I have a Master’s degree, so I am highly educated. The tests say I am highly intelligent. Setting aside self-deprecatory statements it is just a fact. I read about and sometimes even study topics that interest me, such as the social issue of abortion. Oh, and I was adopted at 3 days old. I have a right to and have formed a reasonable opinion on this. I do in fact speak with some authority. That’s what people like me do (the older, educated and experienced) so why is it so off-putting?!

Where I was insulted, the brush that was applied to me, was that I had a need to be right about my opinion. That my authority was correct and should be followed. Respected even. And that I would be offended if dissent was offered. No, the truth is quite the opposite. I am open to the opinions of others. I welcome dissent. Why? Because I am informed and have actually applied whatever critical thinking capabilities I have to the subject. It hurts to be labled “closed off” or even “bigoted.” It. Is. Insulting.

I have the authority of some modicum of wisdom. I don’t like it when that is ignored but I don’t cling to the offense. Because I don’t need to be right. And the irony is that those who now make the accusation of being closedminded are in fact guilty themselves. In fairness I suppose I have to acknowledge the reality that the white patriarchy exists and is the root of many of our problems. But to stereotype me and by extension ignore my thoughts and opinions is just as bad. Hell, it’s exactly the same thing!

Our freedom, our opportunity to evolve as individuals and a society, depend utterly on civil discourse, the reasoned exchange of ideas, and the acknowledgment that age does in fact bring wisdom, or at least experience, and as such should be included in the examination of the discussion. The killer, on both sides, is the need to be right. Need is evidence of the service of Self, nothing greater or noble. So instead of the rude, disrespectful and insulting “check your privilege” how about “check your need.” That alone will free us to communicate, learn, and grow.

Ps: It occurred to me that I too have had and still have a problem with authority. I question it at all times. I used to become actively disrespectful of authority when I didn’t agree with it. I was obnoxious and disrespectful. Until I started making the rules, until I became the authority. There is one key difference now: I understand the evolution of useful rules and those that aren’t so much. I have a modicum of discernment. And I don’t mind if my rules, my opinions, even my beliefs are questioned. Just do your doubting with some respect for the effort put in and the time.

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