The past months I’ve listened carefully to the corona updates and speeches given by our Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte. At first I listened to the details of (medical) information shared. But after seeing a few, I began to zoom out. I stepped into ‘the helicopter’ and observed what was unfolding, from an insightful distance. One thing I noticed was how our political leader of democracy was repeating the same mantra over and over. How proud he was of us citizens, that we obeyed the rules and listened to what we were told to do. How proud he was of children and teenagers who had the courage to tell others to listen and act according to his governments rules.
After each of the weekly conferences held in March my husband and I eagerly awaited the moment when the press was able to ask questions. We craved some perspective, yet not one critical question was asked. Instead we listened to reporters asking ‘when are we allowed to go on holidays?’, ‘when will we be able to hug our mothers again?’ and ‘how long will this new normal last?’.
It started to become very evident that we now saw this one man with a political career as somewhat of a guru who would tell us how to behave, what to do and when to do it. And I tell you, it didn’t sit well. That’s when I started to actively disect some deeply engrained beliefs regarding obedience.
I must add that I have never been a particularly obedient person. I have always pretty much ignored nay sayers and followed my own yes. This resulted in me creating my own paths and ways. It has not always been the easy route but I see its value now more than ever.
Below I share my thoughts.
WHAT IS OBEDIENCE?
Obedience is translated as ‘doing what you have been told to do by someone in authority’. The authority figure is usually the father, the parent, the pope, the church, the king, the boss, the manager, the police, an institution and / or the government. To be obedient is ‘to make your own will subservient to the will of another’.
It is about shutting down your inner voice, your own logic and your own sense of morals and instead following the opinions, instructions and beliefs of someone of authority, someone ‘higher’ or ‘more powerful’ than you.
Let’s investigate that for a moment. If the agenda, will and morals of one entity are considered more important than another, this means one person is more valuable than another. Who gets to decide who’s beliefs, morals and will are more important? And who’s beliefs, morals and will are of less importance? And if one persons ideas are considered more important than another, does this not mean obedience feeds and supports systemic inequality? Inequality between men and women, between race, between those who need to abide by the law and those who enforce the law, between the 1% richest and the 99% less rich, between goverment and citizens.
Perhaps you see obedience as being a thing of the past. You might think it does not really play any kind of role in our modern world anymore. You might think we have democracy, voting rights for women and civilization. We have abolished slavery, dictators, physical punishment for children and the burning of witches. You might think we have evolved.
MODERN DAY OBEDIENCE
But has this demand for and virtue of obedience really disappeared? Has it not simply become more refined, less obvious and in your face? Has it not become such learned and acquired behaviour that we live and copy it unconsciously, like a reflex, without really questioning our own behaviours?
Here are some examples of modern day situations in which obedience plays a huge role:
-Power structures (government, managers, news, etc) are still used to control and keep ‘everything in place’.
-Women get paid much less than men and do not nearly rise to become as powerful as their male colleagues.
-A woman is still preferably kind, quiet and humble. If she isn’t she’s considered ‘difficult’.
-Mothers are made fun of when they also work part-time for a salary. Their work is classified as tinkering.
-Women need to work much harder to prove their worth.
-Women are still objectified and expected to pleasure men with their looks and behaviours.
-Depending on the society, holy-days that celebrate women are rare if not totally absent.
-School systems are still shaped to bring forth obedient youngsters who work hard to make and spend money to keep the economy going.
-Teachers still punish children by letting them stand in the corner of an empty room.
-Medical institutions drug children for being too active therefore not fitting in with the (school) system.
-Science has become a belief that justifies (almost) anything.
-Africans are injected with (DTP) vaccinations considered too dangerous for (white) first world citizens.
-Blacks are still expected to be obedient to whites. Need proof? -> #blacklivesmatter
-Amerika is still ruled by white landowning men.
-Indigenous people are considered backward. First world ‘developed’ urbanites are considered literate, smart and the standard the indigenous should rise up to.
-Many countries still have caste systems. Caste systems that were introduced by white colonialists to control the indigenous population.
-Even in democratic countries that have freedom of speech people that raise critical questions regarding the power structures and systems in place are actively censored.
-In this surveillance age all is monitored to be controled.
-Goddess forbid you were to not follow ‘protocol’.
IS OBEDIENCE NECESSARY?
Those who favour obedience will say we need authority because otherwise people will do as they please and turn into wild beasts who will act without conscience. The world would be chaotic, unruly and even worse… one big Sodom and Gomorra. But who are the people that say this? What do they gain from obedience? And, most importantly, is it true what they claim?
My heart, my mind, my body, they all say NO. That people are essentially good. I’ve been critized many times for speaking this truth of mine. I have been called a naive hippy. I’ve been called a softy. I’ve been called all of the stereotypes you could think of, perhaps (unconsciously) to get me to drift from my truth and step in line. But I haven’t.
Then -last spring- I read Humankind by Rutger Bregman. The book discusses this one belief that has united the left and the right, psychologists and philosophers, ancient thinkers and modern ones: the assumption that humans are bad, selfish by nature and primarily governed by self-interest. But instead of affirming this old belief the author of the book provides a new perspective. By studying the past 200,000 years of human history Bregman comes to the conclusion that -instead of bad- we as humans are hardwired for kindness, geared toward cooperation rather than competition and more inclined to trust than distrust. Humankind claims we are essentially good.
Professor in social psychology, Tom Postmes, has been asking his students the same question for years. An airplane makes an emergency landing and breaks in three pieces. The cabin fills up with smoke. The passengers quickly realise: we have to get out of here! What happens?
On planet A the passengers ask each other if they’re okay. Passengers who need help get priority. People are willing to give their lives, even for strangers. On Planet B it is each for himself. Total panic reigns in the cabin. People kick and shove. Children, the elderly and handicaped are trampled by people wanting to exit the plane asap.
Question: on which planet do YOU think we live?
It does not matter who you ask. Right, left. Blue, red. Poor, rich. Professionals or students. They all misestimate. 97% of people think we live on Planet B. But the reality is we live on Planet A, where people are deeply drawn to and inclined to do good. This might show how engrained the misconception of our essence really is.
It is not the system, the rules or the civilization that keeps ‘the bad’ at bay. Humans are born with a moral compass. It is our nature. At (or before?) birth, babies are endowed with compassion, empathy and with an innate sense of fairness. And -no matter where you were born- morals are universal.
‘Humans have a moral sense because their biological makeup determines the presence of three necessary conditions for ethical behavior: (i) the ability to anticipate the consequences of one’s own actions; (ii) the ability to make value judgments; and (iii) the ability to choose between alternative courses of action.’
Of course, if we are all convinced (and actively being fed the conviction) that humans are bad at the core and that the bad is but coated with a thin veneer of good civilization, we consequently believe (and are led to believe) we need authority and power structures to keep ‘the bad’ in check.
Behind the word authority, structure or system are always people. Therefore authority is not impartial or neutral. Authority comes with its own agenda. People are essentially good, but as we all know, sometimes do hurtful things. What the philantropist might consider to be philantropic good doing might not actually be beneficial to the one the philantrophy is directed at and factually harm the one ‘helped’.
It seems to be of utmost importance to always assess: What are the true motives of the authority figure? And what is really needed by those affected? (Instead of what the authority figure thinks the affected need –which might be clouded by the authority figures own motives, agenda or judgement)
Doing this is even more important because the more power (authority, money, control) people have the more susceptible they seem to corruption. The more power they have, the more they focus on their own egocentric desires (their agenda) and the less able they are to see others’ perspectives. This requires each and every one of us to ask more questions as for the other ones motives. If individuals stop questioning authority, the authoritive figure has green light to do as they please. Since power changes the way the brain operates, and diminishes all varieties of empathy, this will possibly cost the individual some of their freedoms at the benefit and gain of the authority.
To believe in the importance of obedience means to drop responsibility (they told you to do it so therefore you are not responsible) and liberty (you don’t get to decide for yourself) and -as a consequence- invite tyranny.
OBEDIENCE vs SURRENDER
In yoga we speak of surrender. To surrender is considered to be a good thing in yoga. By doing so you release pressure and tension. You diminish the negative effects of stress. You allow rather than force. To me, surrendering is about giving up the internal struggle and instead finding ease within. And while I find it vital to practice and guide my daughters to surrender, to find the ease within, I also consider it vital to practice and guide my daughters to be disobedient. The one thing does not rule out the other. They are in fact a powerful combination that enables intrinsic motivation and cognitive consonance: the ability to do something without obvious external rewards and a state of congruence between beliefs, behaviors and values.
WHAT I MEAN WHEN I SAY I’M RAISING DISOBEDIENT DAUGHTERS:
-That I guide them in discovering their own truth, will, ideas and morals.
-That they don’t just follow the rules but make their own.
-That I don’t just answer their questions but I help them explore their own.
-That they question authority.
-That they can say NO if they feel so.
-That they listen to their own intuition.
-That they follow the thought that feels better.
-That I don’t use fear ‘of the wrong and the bad’ as a motivator, but rather trust in their own capability and goodness.
-That they question their own reactive behaviours.
-That they consider rather than obey. Consideration is being open to anothers suggestions, welcoming an idea thats different from yours and putting it onto the balance. Obedience is to shut down the suggestions you give yourself and blindly follow someone elses.
-That I live my truth.
WHAT I DON’T MEAN WHEN I SAY I’M RAISING DISOBEDIENT DAUGHTERS:
Raising disobedient daughters does not mean I choose to raise immoral beings that randomly hurt, rage, break and distroy. It means I choose to raise my daughters to be listeners. In the first place as being respectful towards themselves as multilayered and interconnected beings. May they listen to their own inner voice first. May they observe, think, consider, feel and weigh. And may they trust themselves to form and follow their own paths.
I invite them to be openminded and listen to others and their ideas. To consider those ideas. Consideration gives perspective. Monotony (one perspective) and separation is not how the world -and all in it- operate or thrive. It thrives through diversity and our interconnectedness.
I raise my daughters with strong foundations that enable them to give but also demand respect for personal morals and beliefs. Yes, I raise my daughters to not be afraid of expressing truth in a way that is unlady-like. They can be ‘difficult’. They can scream and be mad. In our household anger -like joy- is an emotion worthy of expression.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
I want my children to be free. I wish for them to have the liberty to be themselves, express themselves and live according to their own values. I wish for them to not be confined and bound by an assumption, a stereotype or a system. I wish for them to grow through exploration. To live life learning from experience, from mistakes the’ve made and the solutions and truths they’ve discovered along the way. I wish for them to live life fully engaged and awake to the magic within them.
To have and maintain true freedom and sovereignty, complete trust in and an absolute sense of self-security, inquisitiveness and personal self-governance is needed. If we value freedom and want to make our own decisions, we need to be disobedient. Freedom and obedience can’t live in the same home.
I believe my task as a parent is not to teach, but to nurture what’s already there. In this case that means I am here NOT to invoke reverence for imposed external powers but to stimulate the clarification and expression of the intrinsic morals they were born with. I am here to trust in them.
I understand that this subject of (dis)obedience and raising disobedient daughters is too large and too complex to discuss fully in one article, by one person. Yet in these times, while so factually confronted with and affected by the powers of authority and fear, I felt a burning desire – an urgency- to express my concerns, considerations and values. To connect, share and discuss these basics feels of elemental importance. This article is not about being right, it is about speaking my truth. Please feel free to -in a respectful way and tone- share your thoughts and truth in the comments below.
Photos and text full copyright (c) Kyra de Vreeze.