A Week’s Worth of Journaling Prompts: Questioning Authority 6

I was once married to a man who believed a father should rule his family with unbending authority, the role of authority is to provide security and safety, and the authority figure (the father) should be given respect, regardless of what he says or does. In contrast, I was raised in a permissive family environment, where rules were flexible, authority was questioned, respect was earned, and authority was acknowledged rather than imposed. He and I were at two opposite ends of a spectrum, and it didn’t take long for the conflict to spread into other areas of our marriage.

Authority comes in many forms: fathers, mothers, police, military, government leaders, doctors, teachers, and religious leaders. It can be benevolent or harsh. Having authority implies having knowledge, expertise, or power that others don’t have. “He’s the leading authority on the subject.”

Terms for a person in authority include in power, in command, in control, and in charge. If we have authority, we have influence, clout, license, prerogative, and dominance. And if we are authorities, we are experts, specialists, and officials (government, police, medical, and so on).

Most of us are trained to listen to and obey those in authority, to depend on them for advice, security, and safety. We are taught to distrust our own knowledge or power—our own authority—in favor of others’. And we are taught to believe that society functions best when ordered in a top-down fashion.

What interests me is the very idea of authority, how we develop our belief systems about it, and the varying levels to which we depend upon it for guidance. Authority, I have found, can be a touchy subject.

This week’s journaling prompts help us examine the sources of our views, how these beliefs affect our lives, and determine where we are on authority-anarchy spectrum. Perhaps through writing about it, we’ll gain a better understanding of others as well as ourselves.

  1. Freewrite for ten minutes about authority. What emotions, images, and memories emerge?
  2. What do you believe? And what number would you assign to yourself on a spectrum where a 1 means authority is not important in your life and a 5 means it is highly important? Write about the factors that influence this self-assessment.
  3. What did your family of origin teach you about authority?
  4. Since you became an adult, have you changed your attitudes about authority in any way? If so, who are the persons or events that most influenced this change? How or why did the change occur? If you haven’t changed your attitudes about authority, write about what persons and/or events have confirmed your original beliefs.
  5. Have you experienced conflict with others around your attitudes and beliefs about authority? What happened? Did either of you end up changing your opinion? Have either of you changed your opinion since then? What kinds of internal conflicts about authority have you had, and what triggered these conflicts?
  6. Make a list of people and organizations you recognize as authorities in your life right now. Which authorities are imposed and which are acknowledged voluntarily? What is the difference between the two? Then, make a list of people and organizations that recognize you as an authority. Who/what are they, and what kind of authority do you have?
  7. Would you consider yourself more dependent on others’ authority or on yourself for direction and guidance in life? What does it mean to have “personal authority”?

I’d love to hear from you: what additional questions or thoughts do you have on this topic?


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6 thoughts on “A Week’s Worth of Journaling Prompts: Questioning Authority

    • Amber Lea Starfire

      Thanks, Patsy. It’s really one topic. The idea is to examine or look at authority from different angles, from our beliefs and attitudes and emotions to how authority functions in our lives—including how we wield or use or handle or respect our own authority. In my experience, when we explore and write about our assumptions, especially regarding big concepts like this one, we view ourselves and others more openly and honestly.

  • Linda Sievers

    Not a small subject, and one that has circled in, out, and around my entire life. I think my first experience that changed my attitudes about authority were in my dance and choreography classes when I was asked to create from what inspired my heart and soul. At first, I didn’t know how to go about this having grown up in a highly authoritative environment. But I soon learned to ‘peel’ the rind of my hidden strengths and to discover what was in me.

    To add to the ‘pool’ of thought on power/authority, I accidentally stumbled on an article yesterday titled, Adolf Hitler: How Could a Monster Succeed in Blinding a Nation? The author, Alice Miller, Ph.D. suggests that Hitler made promises “in the style of the domineering, violent father most of his followers knew, feared, and admired.” The author is not excusing Hitler but rather attempting to explain how he held such a large number of followers and got people to do his bidding. Certainly the article raises some interesting thought regarding the abuse of power that stunned the world. (www.naturalchild.org/alice_miller/adolf_hitler.html

    Thank you, Amber, for a challenging examination of what this subject means and how can influence our lives.

    • Amber Lea Starfire

      Linda, thank you for the link to the thought-provoking article and for sharing your personal story. As I mentioned in my post, I grew up in a permissive family, so I had a different experience than most of my peers. As a result, I grew up clinging to benevolent authorities: teachers, kind adults, etc. I desperately wanted someone to tell me how to live. It has taken a long time for me to trust my inner authority—that innate sense of purpose and direction. It seems ironic that both extremes create children who struggle to find their voice.

  • Linda Sievers

    I like that term…inner authority. Ultimately, it is what we all seek, and hopefully tempered with benevolence and vision.