How to Be an Authority without Being a Jerk

If you’re anything like me, then the idea of claiming to be an authority seems a little bit distasteful. Not just because of imposter syndrome – feeling like ‘who am I to claim to be an authority’, but also because authority is so closely linked to the word authoritarian – something I do not wish in any way to associate myself with. Nope, not me – I’m all about cooperation, sharing, and other bleeding heart stuff like that.

On a recent drive along I-80 in central Pennsylvania (I have some of my best thoughts while on the road), it occurred to me that my repulsion toward the word authority may be rooted in my interpretation of the word rather than what the word could potentially mean.

The concept of authority has become entangled with authoritarianism and top-down, hierarchical leadership styles that are slowly, but thankfully, becoming a relic of the past. We think of the word ‘authority’ to mean ‘I wrote the book. I’m special and better than (collective) you because I know it all – and anything you say to try and challenge me is just going to make you look like a fool.’

I see authority as an active process of envisioning and creating. It doesn’t mean that you wrote the book that sits on dusty shelves and nobody reads anymore but that you are actively and continually writing – creating – in response to an ever-changing world.

If you think you know everything you aren’t an authority; you’re a jerk and nobody cares about your impossible and improbable claims to know everything. The only way to establish authority while also building credibility and respect is to take creative risks, learn, renew perspectives, and repeat the process over and over again. Let’s rewrite the script on authority.

Explore

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Openness is a gift

Without end

Lacking parameters I can

Freely explore all that is

Available to me

In this world,

This vast, expansive world.

But I sometimes get lost

Exploring,

Discovering,

Understanding,

My head and heart

Overwhelmed

With the promise of possibility

And the blur of

All that I have yet to learn.

I’m yearning for answers

But only finding

More questions

Leading me to

Embark on

New beginnings

New journeys in

Newly found worlds

That multiply over time

And my web grows thick with

Connections

Restraining my

Progress

But enriching my

Mind.

Intentional Carelessness

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Intentional carelessness is the act of purposefully choosing not to attach ourselves to what happens or to what happens as a result of what happens. It is a stance that promotes curiosity and openness to experiencing life as it is lived without judgment or regret. It means that we do not take ourselves and our preconceived, rigid ideas about the world seriously; however, the fate of the world, and our actions or lack of action that contributes to its status, remain worthy of our reflection and commitment. We care about what happens but long to understand it through the hue of multiple, interchangeable lenses that together form a more comprehensive yet mysterious snapshot of reality. We effortlessly move on when we fail, and we are humbled by this experience. This is both our choice and our undeniable privilege because we choose to care about what matters most and to not care when caring becomes a hindrance to our humanity.

Carpe Diem

People have been seizing the day since Horace offered this delicious phrase to the world in 23 BCE. Yet over time, we intuitively fall into a flow of anticipating the cycles of seasons and days. Habits are established. Life loses its pristine novelty, too often without capturing our notice.

I sometimes wonder, worry really, if I have fallen into an intermittent willful resignation. My life sometimes feels pre-scripted. Other times, it feels like a play I have repeatedly seen. Sure, I uncover additional nuance with each performance, every viewing, but there are empty seats awaiting me in the theatre down the street — not to mention across the country and around the world.

About eight years ago, a psychologist told me that I was bored because I had adopted a conventional life, one that contrasted greatly with that of my past. Being able to manage my emotions and behavior to achieve my life goals, even to maintain stability in my life, has been useful. But sometimes it just isn’t enough. It doesn’t fulfill and excite me. I feel dull, numb, and nearly half dead at times.

For me, there is a constant tension between carefully controlling my life so that I am able to function and fully living in, and appreciating, the moment as it occurs. Perhaps everyone experiences this phenomenon, but my loss of control could potentially be destructive, devastating, and disastrous. I suppose this is true for most people, to one degree or another.

Learning to reconcile this tension in a healthy way, and to live a naturally integrated, complete life is an ongoing process. With time, I continually discover my own cycles and rhythms to complement the harmony I wish to create in my life. There are no shortcuts to realizing authentic wholeness, and with both patience and practice the moments I feel that level of connection — with myself and the planet — will surely grow in both frequency and duration.