Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Gift of Authority

"Bringing out the Best"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

I was talking with a friend of mine the other day as she was lamenting about hating her work because the boss is such a "brute and a bully." The conversation got me to thinking that, whether or not they mean to be, there are probably lots of bosses who bully those who are under their authority. I think that part of the problem is that people rarely reflect upon what having authority over others really means. 

Interestingly enough,  the word "authority" and the word "author"comes from the same root. Just as an author breathes new life into words, so do those in authority breathe new life into those entrusted to their care. 

I am hardly a chef but I do like to cook, and I especially enjoy cooking with various and sundry types of fresh herbs. While it may appear that when added to food, an herb "imposes" a particular flavor, the opposite is actually true. Any chef will tell you that an herb used properly actually "brings out the best" of the favors that are already in the food. 

When you put cinnamon on a baked apple, the sweet taste of the juicy fruit baking in an oven is wonderfully enhanced.  When you add a bit of tarragon to a chicken breast you actually get to experience what the chicken tastes like at its best, and if you add a sprig of dill to a salmon fillet, it comes to life. 

I think that someone who exercises genuine authority is like the cook who adds herbs to food, bringing out the best of what is already there. 

The "boss" who uses authority by imposing his or her will on others, forcing them into submission, is nothing more than a narcissist in boss's clothing - a brute and a bully. The "boss" who recognizes the gifts of those in his or her charge, urging them and empowering them to use their talents in the best way possible is a real "boss." (By the way, a real boss is almost always more effective) 

I like to think of "authority" as a gift, even a spiritual gift, given to someone to be used to build others up, and so I don't think anyone ever has authority "over" others. I think the gift of authority is given to us to be used "for" others - a precious gift to be used "on behalf of" the welfare of another.

In the Christian Gospels, Jesus often refers to his authority. In fact, in one place he boldly claims 

All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. 

There are also other places in the gospels where people recognize Jesus' authority, but they always see it as a different kind of authority than they are accustomed to seeing.  The people are used to their priests, scribes and doctors of the law lording it over them, dominating them, imposing their wills over them like brutes and bullies. 

But Jesus never comes across as a bully in anything he ever says or does.  He uses his considerable "authority" on behalf of others. He uses "all the authority of heaven and earth" to "bring out the best" in others, showing all who come his way how loved and lovable they already are. 

As I see it, whether you are a Christian, a religious person, an agnostic or an atheist  you can look to the example of Jesus as a perfect icon of what the genuine use of authority looks like. Jesus is an author and not an autocrat. 

I feel bad that my friend's boss is such a "brute and a bully" - maybe a class on cooking with herbs might help.

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