Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Three Ways Authority Affects People

Some time ago, I wrote some articles about authority (All Hypnosis is Authoritarian), but I thought I'd go over it again specifically, with a little more detail.

To start, let's define authority. According to the Oxford English Dictionary:
1 [mass noun] the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience: he had absolute authority over his subordinates a rebellion against those in authority
2 (often authorities) a person or organization having political or administrative power and control..
3 [mass noun] the power to influence others, especially because of one’s commanding manner or one’s recognized knowledge about something
(Abridged from:

In my last article, I suggested that when faced with a compelling authority, people will either comply, rebel or surrender. I thought it would be worthwhile to explore these in a little more depth with a little more detail. As you read these, see whether you can think of examples that you've already experienced or observed, and whether thinking bout it explicitly might give you more control in the future.

Comply-- In the face of authority, many will comply. A teacher, a boss, or other figure says, "do it!" and (many) people do it. In a well structured and regulated society, there's a kind of chain of order, and those higher up on the chain are qualified to direct the people underneath them, so that when they give an order, the ones below will obey. (at least, that's the theory). In an abstract perspective, the people below obey the people above for the sake of order and society. That's surely a possible motivation, but people certainly are motivated by more immediate and personal needs and feelings. In practice, people will obey a higher authority because there's an advantage to themselves. This might sound a little mercenary, but it doesn't have to be. While it's obvious that an employee will obey the boss for the sake of his paycheck, and a prisoner will obey his guards for privileges or to avoid punishment, that's not the only reason people comply. A person will obey another on trust, if that the person they're obeying has their best interests at heart. The advantage could be something external to the person, or it could be simply an investment in the relationship.
Rebel-- Not everyone obeys an authority. If the command runs counter to a person's own interests, or sense of identity, or offers no advantage, they may refuse to comply. If the authority presses more force, the mind might resist it with more force, or run away. People rebel when a situation really runs in opposition to their needs and feelings or when they can perceive a threat of some sort. History is full of examples where people have taken a stand against injustice or tyranny and rebelled against it.Sadly, we've also seem examples where people have decided they are more qualified to be the authority, and they rebelled against the existing authority to take control. Teenagers, as they begin to mature and perceive themselves as individuals separate from the family and surroundings, will usually rebel against authority to discover the boundaries of their powers and where they sit in the social hierarchy. Rebelling can be a form of testing the boundaries. It's not uncommon in other areas, too. In business, a new executive may rebel against the established order of the company in a bid to become the new authority. Rebelling is as much a test of will and power as it it a rejection or an escape.
Surrender-- When  person surrenders to authority, they do so because they feel they have no power to do anything else. The person who complies gets something out of it, the person who rebels still feels they have some power and control and refuses to give it up, but when a person perceives he has nothing to gain and not the power to resist, he may surrender to the authority. If you're the authority, this might sound like exactly what you want, since you're getting compliance without rebellion and don't have to worry about the needs of your underlings. But think about it. Is it really ideal? Imagine you're a military commander and you have some enemy soldiers who've surrendered to you. Do you trust them? Or do you have to set guards to watch them 24 hours a day, for fear they'll escape, rebel or sabotage the rest of your soldiers or your command. People who've surrendered are like this. They've given up because they've reached the bottom, but it doesn't mean they'll stay there. A person who's surrendered may well grasp at the first opportunity they have to rebel, and they may also find other ways to rebel that are less likely to be detected. In offices, it's not uncommon for an employee who's feeling beaten to get even by pilfering supplies or sabotaging the day to day workings of the company. (I personally experienced working with a guy who's sabotage consisted of trashing the bathrooms and stuffing up the toilets!).
For a person in a position of authority, surrender might superficially seem like an ideal solution, but getting compliance by taking the others' needs into consideration works much better in the long run. 

There's one other response some people have to authority that's important to touch on, which I think is best described as transference. In psychology, transference is a word used to describe when a person transfers their feelings for one person to another as a surrogate. An abusive spouse, for example, might be transferring their anger from a parent to a spouse, for example. A person who's musician-spouse may have died might transfer their feelings to another musician they meet. Hostages with "Stockholm Syndrome" captives develop a sympathy for their captors, a funny kind of transference where they transfer their trust and understanding to the people they should trust least.

You will sometimes find someone who is under the auspices of a strong, maybe oppressive, authority, and they seem to comply even though there's no obvious advantage to them, and they may even suffer abuse from that force they comply with. Sometimes the compliance increases with the level of force put upon them. Are they masochists? (If so, that would then be something that satisfies their needs, so that would be compliance, not transference!). If you watch them with their underlings or peers, you might find that they are behaving in an authoritarian manner, maybe bossing and abusing the others. Though they get no direct benefit to complying with the authority, they take on the air of dominance, and see the power of the person over them as extending through them.

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