by Selwyn Duke
We live in a very defiant age, one in which a spirit of rebellion has supplanted a sense of duty and respect for legitimate authority. And it's evident in how people behave: we see employees who take umbrage at the fact that their boss issues them orders. We encounter nasty folks in the services industry who seem to not understand the essence of the phrase "the customer is always right." We see children to whom the idea of obedience is anathema, causing them to obey neither teacher nor parent. Interestingly, it states in the Bible that this would come to pass, for it says, "For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents..." It wasn't always this way though; there was a time, one that has faded from memory for many, when proper obedience was understood to be a virtue - but those days are past. And since art imitates life, we can see this change reflected in popular culture. Just contrast the parent-child relationships portrayed in the sitcoms of the fifties with those in sitcoms today. Gone are the polite kids in "Leave it to Beaver" and "Father Knows Best," who had an innocent twinkle in their eyes and respect for their elders. They have been replaced by cynical, ill-behaved, impertinent, irreverent brats who always have a smart-aleck remark at the ready, and whose behavior is seen as being entertaining by many. And then there are those "Question Authority" bumper stickers that some people like to display, as if our problem is that we exhibit the unquestioning, unflinching obedience to worldly authority of an ancient Chinese servant. Now, I've mentioned children quite a bit, because that is of course where it all starts - as the twig is bent so grows the tree. We're breeding people who have no respect for legitimate authority because we allow disobedience in our kids, and we're doing the latter because we have developed a contempt for obedience. Yes, in this gratuitously egalitarian time obedience has become a four letter word - so much so, that few even know what it truly means.
I remember seeing a psychologist on TV who was talking about so-called Attention Deficit Disorder children. And his words have been emblazoned upon my memory, he said "Normal kids obey their parents about 50% of the time; ADD kids however, only obey their parents 15% of the time. What struck me though, was not the disparity between the obedience levels of normal and ADD children. No, what struck me was the apparent assumption that for normal kids to obey parents only 50% of the time was acceptable. You see, what often isn't realized is that being obedient only 50% of the time is tantamount to not being obedient at all. This is because when most any individual is given directions on a consistent basis, probability dictates that a good percentage of the time he will be told to do things that he doesn't mind. And of course, no one minds doing things he doesn't mind! And, if you only comply when you're told to do things you find palatable, it's not obedience. It's only obedience if you obey even when you DO mind - this is why if it's not complete obedience, it's not obedience at all.
Now, I realize that this idea of complete obedience may sound like an archaic concept, and one that offends our modernistic sensibilities. After all, we're completely smitten with the notion that authoritarianism never has a place; because of this, many think that even families must be democratic. The thinking is: who am I to lord authority over my kids - who am I to impose my values on them? And, because this is felt viscerally by virtually everyone, almost no one has the will, the "heart" to instill obedience in his children. But "The heart is deceitful above all things," so, this is where an understanding of the importance of obedience must be developed so that the head can intervene where the heart is lacking.
We are all born as self-centered beings with a tendency toward pride. We are born without control over our impulses and without an understanding of why some of them should be controlled. An infant wants his way and he wants it now - a toddler wants his way whether it's right or wrong. We're born being all base instinct, with a conscience that must be cultivated. If you like psychological terminology you could say we're born being all "Id" - this is a term originated by Sigmund Freud, and it pertains to the part of our minds that contains all of our base urges, and which must be counterbalanced by "The Superego" [one's conscience]. Any which way you slice it though, the fact is that we are born with a desire to be obedient to nothing: neither our parents nor a just standard of right and wrong - nothing that is, save what our own feelings dictate. We want to make up our own rules, and if we are to mature into good, loving adults this has to change. We have to become civilized.
So, how is this inherent flaw of human nature ameliorated? Well, it all boils down to parenting we must learn how to adhere to rules that are not our own. Our pride rebels against this, but if our parents are wise they'll force, yes, FORCE us to abide by their rules to the letter - they'll instill obedience. If this is done on a consistent basis, we're purged of undue pride, and this transforms us into people who are willing to abide the rules of others if those rules foster the greater good. It also trains us to be willing to look outside ourselves and take our fellow man into consideration, as opposed to just narrowly focusing on our own selfish needs.
What happens though when the above is not done? What happens when children are pandered to and allowed to do wrong because their parents don't have the "heart" to make them do right? What happens is that we never learn to suppress our pride; we never develop tolerance for following rules that are not our own. We then proceed through life with egos that outstrip our consciences, and we often won't even abide by rubrics that would save us from harm. We become disobedient students and may not learn well or get good grades; because after all, you can't learn from someone unless you're willing to first listen to him. We'll be less likely to take good counsel that would help us to avoid dangerous situations and bad relationships. We may become disobedient employees who'll find it hard to hold down a job because we won't listen to our employer. Even more sadly, we may not be willing to follow God's laws and won't live a moral life, which leads to bad physical, psychological and emotional health. And, if we're disobedient enough, we may even refuse to follow the just laws of the land and run afoul of the law. Which brings me to a very salient point: parents who still don't have the "heart" to civilize their kids should bear in mind that there's a place for grown-up kids who never learned to behave - it's called prison.
This is why the practice of instilling obedience mustn't remain a relic of the past. And this is why parents must realize that it's not only their right to expect obedience - it's their DUTY. They are obligated to lead their children and train them in the way they should go; when they do not, they have abrogated their responsibility. If an officer doesn't lead his unit properly and more men die in battle than is necessary, their blood is on his hands. If parents don't lead their charges properly and they founder on the rocks of life, their lost souls are on their parents' heads. Instilling obedience is part of what constitutes true love, and knowing that is a small part of what constitutes true wisdom.