Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Authority Figures

If you’ve ever felt paranoid when a police car is driving behind you EVEN IF THERE ISN’T A RULE IN THE BOOK THAT YOU ARE BREAKING, then you are having the most typical reaction to authority figures.


FACT: “People on average will obey authority despite their own moral objections.”


I laughed the first time that I read that statement. Way back in 1977 I got an early morning call from my sister telling me that my dad had died suddenly. He had been at work in New Jersey, she was on her way to the hospital to do the legal stuff of identifying him. Meanwhile our mom, at home in the Bronx NYC, was sick and the police officer who delivered the news to her had told my sister that he was worried about her condition.


I was in Rockland County, NY, at least 40-minutes away and it was a miserable, rainy day. Nonetheless I got into the car and I knowingly did much more than the posted speed limits. (I was remembering a story of my dad rushing home because mommy wasn’t well and he actually received a police escort across the George Washington Bridge… I guess I was hoping for the same advantage) Maybe it was because of the weather, but no one stopped me so that I could ask for an escort.


 What really struck me as odd, and now in retrospect actually makes me chuckle, was when the coins I threw into the Tappan Zee Bridge hopper didn’t register, and instead of my just peeling out and hopefully attracting a police escort, I sat there honking my horn until the toll-taker a few booths over manually reset the light. I could NOT bring myself to go through the stop light even though I was certainly breaking the speed limit.


We are (mostly) conditioned to accept and obey authority figures… at least to a limit. So here I was, knowingly breaking every speed law in the rush to get to my grieving mother, and yet when it came to going through the STOP sign at the toll bridge, I froze, I couldn’t do it.


Especially in this day and age we’ve seen several instances where folks have ignored authority figures selectively. Many of us will “respect” and comply with authoritative directives unless our moral obligations are stronger, and we believe the authority is wrong. I guess I was able to justify the speed in which I was driving, and yet I was not prepared to burst through a red light at the toll booth. It sounds funny now, so many years later, when I clearly remember my annoyance and impatience at that toll basket and yet my foot remained frozen on the brake pedal.


Months after that horrible day I told my mom about the way I froze in-route to see her. She chuckled and told me it was all the years of her and daddy telling me there were rules to be followed. She joked while patting herself on the back reminding me what a good mother she was in teaching me to be a “good girl”.


So many years later (and no longer living in Rockland County!), many of the lessons that my folks taught me still remain, and not always in the BACK of my mind.

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