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Monday, February 20, 2012

Legitimate Authority Empowers

Yesterday in Sunday school we discussed what is essential for authority to be perceived as legitimate.  The perception of authority is strongly tied to emotions.  That is, we feel emotionally rebellious if we perceive that an authority over us is illegitimate. What makes for feelings of legitimacy in power?  The one essential is that we perceive the authority figure over us is seeking to empower us—in this way seeking to share power.  For example, a boss that rides his employees violates this principle.  On the other hand, a boss that affirms it says such things as the following:  “You need to complete this task sometime this week.”  This shares power for it is empowering the employee to have some say over his own schedule (“I will get to it on Wednesday when it best fits into my schedule.”)  An example of the contrary is authority at an assisted living facility that says (in so many words) to a resident “You will eat (or shower, or whatever else) whenever I damn well please and not until.”  This hoards power and is viewed as inconsiderate and illegitimate.  It says to the resident “I really don’t care about you at all.  I only care about myself—and this at your expense.”  (A fundamental technique of torture interrogation is to exercise absolute control over the detainee.)  Legitimate authority always seeks to share and empower others.  One major factor that the U.S. Government maintains an air of legitimacy to its citizenry is the empowerment embodied in the Bill of Rights.  It makes it clear that a fundamental purpose of the government is to secure, share, and protect the power of its citizens. An oft used phrase that encapsulates this is “servant leadership.”  The servant leader is one who serves up and shares power with those under him.  This is viewed not as a gift, but a right—a very profound thing in itself.  (The follower in this case makes it clear that by choice he accedes to the leadership of another.)  Even though we may not be able to adequately detail the “whys” of this equation of power, we know that it is fundamentally essential to a perception of legitimacy and feelings of contentment and happiness.      

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