“I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me.” ~Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice
An interesting conversation took place between myself and a child who shall remain nameless, to whom for the purposes of anonymity I shall refer with the generic pronoun “he.”
We were driving somewhere on a rainy day, so my safety consciousness radar was already on heightened alert. I saw him try to adjust his booster straps to permit greater freedom of movement and told him to cease and desist forthwith. Yet he continued right on in his effort to wriggle out of his restraints.
I had to pull over (very inconvenient!), re-tighten his safety straps, and sternly lecture him about the need for obedience. Except I didn’t precisely lecture him on the systemic need for obedience in general, but rather on the incidental need for obedience in this particular situation, and the logical conversation that resulted shone a bright light on the underlying assumptions I’d been making about how and why I enforce my authority.
“Why were you wiggling out of your straps when I told you to stop?”
“It was uncomfortable.”
“Yes, sometimes doing the right thing can be uncomfortable. But you still need to follow the rules. The seat belt is to protect you in case you are ever in an accident! Being safe is far more important than being comfortable.”
“But you know we’re never going to be in an accident!”
Bingo! The situational necessity for wearing a seat belt was lost on him, due to a functional lack of knowledge about statistics, risk factors, and probabilities, as well as an experiential lack of knowledge about car accidents, anecdotally or personally.
His entire life experience spanned a universe where people simply did not get in accidents. Therefore, according to his little mind, my insistence on silly rules—such as wearing properly tightened seat belts—was a pointless and annoying assault on his preference and common sense.
In other words, he refused to obey me and trust my judgment about a particular ruling, instead insisting on following his own opinion, which—in his immature judgment—was formed squarely on the basis of his own comfort and convenience.
This conflict represented the functional difference between outward compliance with rules and inward adoption of conviction. It reminded me why it matters that I explain myself repeatedly to my children, not on every single issue, but frequently enough so that they learn that I have a very good reason for doing the things I am doing. Otherwise, they are left with a hollow shell of ritual that can be discarded when circumstances render it convenient to do so.
Now, when called upon to respond to a direct order, it is absolutely imperative that we can count on our leaders or authority figures to make the right determination and to have our best interests at heart so we can act accordingly. Unquestioning loyalty to authority in a life-or-death situation requires the prior establishment of trust and respect. Blind loyalty in the absence of earned trust can lead to catastrophe, as when a herd of lemmings follow their mistaken (but possibly well-intentioned) leader over a cliff.
I want my children to learn to exercise both trust and conviction as they grow into autonomous individuals. For now, I want my children to love and trust me as the final word on important decisions on the basis of earned loyalty and judicious determination. Eventually, my goal for them is for God Himself to replace me as the ultimate arbiter of what is right and wrong, and for them to fully engage Him in their own right on the merits of their actively developed reason and personal autonomy.
Photo Credit: First image graphic design by Charity Klicka; all other images by Rose Focht.