Lately I have been contemplating how our historical societal beliefs in a strict, judgmental authoritarian God have influenced just about every aspect of our lives, from marriage, to parenting, to schools, to the workplace, to government itself.
When you view the Creator of the Universe as a gentle Loving partner and guide, as something truly inseparable from us all, that is a paradigm shift with profound effects on how we view relationships and leadership in general.
In marriage, some may be surprised to know that there are still many people who believe the husband should be in a leadership role, based on their beliefs, although how they interpret their beliefs does indeed influence how much of a partnership exists in marriage, as opposed to the husband taking on a strict authoritarian role. I have explored this topic online in the past, with interesting responses on all sides. In fact, it was one of the most popular posts I ever created on the Oprah forum, with almost 23,000 views and over 200 replies (Let's Discuss What the Bible Says About Women ). I learned a lot from that thread regarding how marriage is gradually evolving towards more of a respectful partnership, even very subtly in conservative circles (though many women still disempower themselves daily). There are some who are attempting to re-assert the authority of men in marriage, but I believe such attempts will ultimately fail, as more and more women claim their truly equal status in marriage and in society.
As a parent, when a child behaves inappropriately, it is easier to lay down the law in an strict, authoritarian way, than to act as a gentle guide. Yes, younger children require more direct intervention, if they are about to run into the street, for example - however, HOW you go about this is very important. James Dobson and "Focus on the Family" still advocate authoritarian methods of parenting, even physical punishment. However, many parents are now evolving towards a different model altogether, as indicated by the popularity of "Love and Logic" parenting classes.
A strict authoritarian approach does not truly teach a child. All it does is instill fear of punishment, just like strict, authoritarian depictions of God. Fear may be a motivator, but it's not a truly productive one, and ultimately this is why children choose to rebel. And directing anger or physical correction towards a child only tells a child that reacting in anger, or even worse, with physical violence, is perfectly ok. When you view parenting as a partnership, particularly as children become old enough to understand, when you use your creativity to lead via influence, not authority, when you gently guide a child towards appropriate behavior in innovative ways, THAT's when lifelong lessons are truly learned. Threats and punishment may have a short-term effect, but the lasting effect is more harmful than good.
School districts which deploy "zero tolerance" approaches are essentially modeling the behavior of a strict, authoritarian leadership structure, indeed subtly modeled on the concept of a "zero tolerance" God, though we may not realize this is so. Such approaches are based on fear, not on reason. Children are punished severely, even when there is no intent to commit an offense. I believe all such approaches in school administration will ultimately fail and be replaced. In the old days, even corporal punishment in public schools was allowed. Now it is almost universally frowned upon. Society has evolved, and society will continue to evolve towards a model which treats children with the loving respect they deserve, while still creatively guiding children to appropriate behavior. This is NOT the easy path - it is much easier to lay down the law in a strict authoritarian way, but we are capable of creatively devising the solutions to make it happen. And the result will be children who actually listen and become the balanced, loving citizens of Planet Earth we seek to create.
And now we come to the workplace. Authoritarian structures run rampant in just about every workplace environment today. We all know the difference between a good boss and a bad boss, and generally the bad bosses are the ones who do not know how to treat their employees with the respect they deserve, who choose not to listen to those they lead, who have forgotten that a true team is a partnership, not a dictatorship. Where did we ever get the idea that it is ok to yell at employees in the workplace? Yet such highly disrespectful, disempowering scenarios occur daily, with many workplace environments resembling abusive parenting households more than true teams. We must have the courage in business to lead with gentle influence, to take the road less traveled, to innovatively find ways to motivate those we lead, and to treat even the people on the lowest rung of the corporate ladder with the respect they deserve. People with good bosses already know why this works. Indeed the term "boss" itself has authoritarian implications. A true leader is not a "boss" at all.
And then we come to the ultimate authority structure of all: government. Our criminal justice system is failing us. That's because it is based on punitive, often unreasonable, vengeance-based, fear-based foundations, not on the intent to truly understand and seek to rehabilitate those who fall into its clutches. We see our impulse for vengeance in the punishment of accidental crimes, or of the mentally ill, or in punishing offenses based on the results, not the intent. Even when clear intent exists, we would rather slam the door shut and throw away the key, rather than seek to heal what caused the crime to begin with. Once again, our impulse in society to follow the strict, punitive path is based on age-old beliefs in an authoritarian God who does much the same.
Embracing a new form of enforcing the laws of society will require a huge paradigm shift, and it is not the easy path. Yet we will begin to treat people with the respect they deserve. And when it comes to leadership in government, we are finally evolving as a civilization beyond the kingship/emperorship/dictatorship model. Many of us are beginning to realize that government cannot rule with an iron fist, even if that's the apparently easy path (not really, since it ultimately leads to strife and dissolution). But still, we have a long way to go before we figure out how to define the government of a society based on true respect and influence, rather than authority.
There is an ultimate solution. It is evolution. The old fear-based approaches are based on survival-level existence, where fear is inevitable, where God is something to be feared, not simply Loved, where authority appears required just to survive. I truly believe our quantum leap to a new level of Consciousness holds the lasting key. And that is once again where peace not only becomes possible on Earth, but in every aspect of society.