Acceptance of Authority Is the Denial of Truth
Everyone is an authority these days. Believing makes it so. And in the silence, truth dies.
“A leading authority is anyone who has guessed right more than once.” — Frank A. Clark
Authority rules and is made stronger by silence.
But who is truly deserving of it?
Is it the teacher?
Is it the preacher?
Is it the politician?
Is it the celebrity?
According to Cicero, “the authority of those who teach is often an obstacle to those who want to learn.” The modern curriculum of universities cares little for the hands-on nature of learning.
According to Mark Twain, “in religion and politics people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing.”
That’s a bit uncomfortable for preachers and politicians, but it is fair warning for the rest of us. William Shakespeare nails this aspect of human nature rather soundly:
“Man, proud man,
Drest in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he’s most assured.”
Jiddu Krishnamurti may sound extreme at first when saying “any acceptance of authority is the very denial of truth.” But then consider the wisdom of Anthony de Mello: “If you make me your authority, you harm yourself because you will not see things for yourself, and you harm me too because you refuse to see me as I am.”
We all struggle with a cognitive bias toward authority. Those we believe to be wise, powerful or popular are often treated as the gospel truth, when in reality they frequently disappoint as any human being is wont to do.
What causes this bias?
We are raised from birth to respect authority figures.
We often conform to social pressures out of self interest.
We lack the time and inclination to make sense of every complexity.
The best way to avoid authority bias is to remain aware of it. This awareness is best leveraged when we find ourselves in a position of authority, whether by deed, circumstance or good fortune.
Consider the hindsight of Albert Einstein: “To punish me for my contempt for authority, fate made me an authority myself.”
So who are the true authorities among us? Plato opined “the wisest have the most authority.” Carl Rogers offered up “experience [as] the highest authority.”
In all things, be wary of those who claim, demand or expect authority. As in leadership, the best candidates for authority are often those who would rather not be bothered. After all, “authority forgets a dying king.” Thank you, Lord Tennyson.
🤔 Food for Thought:
Who are you blindly treating as an authority?
What is driving you to do such a thing?
What are you failing to see for yourself?
⚙️ One Small Step:
The next time you see someone claiming to be an authority, start by questioning and not accepting. Are they really the path to truth? Why must they insist on wearing a crown? The real path to truth lies in such questions.