In my last post, I talked about why I don’t trust authority.
Many people like me who were raised in controlling environments tend to not get along with authority outside that context, breeding difficulties in maintaining employment and interacting within society.
But the older generations often discount why we’d react this way.
“You’re just a rebel. Someday you’ll grow up.”
“I guess your parents didn’t beat you enough. Nobody ever taught you respect.”
They don’t recognize that 20 somethings like us have negative experiences with authority figures.
What about children who were beaten by their parents, teenagers molested by youth group leaders? What about those of us convinced early on that we must kill any strong desires as worldly and evil and focus obsessively on self-sacrifice in preparation for our eventual martyrdom?
We’re not deviant just because. Usually we were wounded by someone who misused their power.
I’m able to balance my rebellion through boycotting video cards and candy bars. I find harmless, unusual outlets in which to be deviant. But society views my friends who deviate in larger ways as dysfunctional.
I’m not that different from them. I just happen to have a job and they don’t. But we feel the same way about authority.
Here’s some ways I think authority figures can be fair and ethical in dealing with people like us:
1.) Don’t make excessive rules or rules with discrepancies.
This is just asking for rebellion.
Like the student handbooks at Bob Jones University or Pensacola Christian College. They’re so exacting.
If you’re going to have policies like this:
Of course you’re also going to have to enforce them like this:
BJU also bans several other extremely specific offenses like wearing Abercrombie & Fitch or Hollister clothing, because of the brands’ “unusual degree of antagonism to Biblical morality,” (p. 33), and necklines lower than four finger widths below your collarbone, for modesty reasons (p. 32).
Similar themes surface in The Student Voice’s satirical Things You Won’t Do at PCC, which lists arbitrary items such as “own a fish” and “play a harmonica.”
Peter Gage, who published the Student Voice, the “underground” newsletter that sought to expose PCC’s flaws in the early 2000s, was sued by PCC for cybersquatting in 2013.
Because we grew up in home environments with their own specific rules, we used the rules to protect ourselves. That’s why discrepancies bother us, because then the authority becomes unpredictable. It’s survival instincts.
One company I worked for intentionally hid dress codes so the HR department could fire employees violating rules that were never properly explained.
When guidelines in the workplace are contradictory, I get panicky, waiting for unexpected punishment.
2.) Don’t invent punishments intended to harm. Consequences should seem natural.
Many fundamentalist parents will say, “I make my kid pull their jeans down, because if I spank them through their pants, it doesn’t hurt enough.” Or “The diaper is too much padding. They won’t remember what they did wrong unless it stings.” Or “My child talked back, so they lost their favorite doll / book. I had to find some way to get their attention.”
This strange idea circulates that the consequences have to be harsh, and it should hurt the child. I thought society frowned on cruel and unusual punishments. Also, the rest of the world doesn’t operate this way, as we found after childhood. But it still feels like it does.
After my last post, my friend Kathleen asked me how I thought parents should raise children.
I’d say they shouldn’t invent punishments that crush the child’s spirit, either physically or emotionally. Consequences should be preparation for adult responsibility, not calculated to inflict pain.
Children learn by doing.
You can tell them to pick up their toys so the dog doesn’t destroy them, but if they don’t listen and the dog shreds them, you don’t punish the child or the dog. And you can remind them not to walk in front of swings, but, unfortunately, they may have to get bonked in the head a couple of times.
I don’t think sheltering kids from these experiences is the answer. It’s just inhibiting their individual growth. The parents, seeking to protect the child from scraped knees, inflicts different wounds.
If I get to be a mom, I want to be their healer and guide, not their aggressor.
3) Allow for communication about the rules and how power is exercised.
My friend Shelby, who is a sociology grad student, developed a scale for my paranoia.
It’s useful, because she can ask me how anxious I am on any given day, and I can give her a number, like 3.5.
I can report my paranoia like the local news reports the daily fire danger during the summer. This helps me communicate how I feel, how rational I am that day. It’s amusing, but I also become more self-aware.
Also, if authority figures are open to negotiation about the rules, I feel safer.
Homeschool alumni blogger Libby Anne wrote last month about how she’s more flexible with her children than her parents were. She explains:
And she points out that treating children this way isn’t a good model for adult relationships, with several examples, and concludes:
I relax and begin to trust authority again when they consider what I want and need, and are open to compromise.
We won’t remain rebels if we feel we are treated fairly.