Authority is something we have been taught from a young age to respect. We should respect the authority of our parents, teachers, bosses, the government, etc. But as we get older, sometimes we begin to think that they should begin respecting us as well. Like Martin Luther King Jr. says in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Just because someone has power doesn’t mean that they are respected by those below them. When is it okay to express civil disobedience toward those examples of authority, and when is it okay to sit back and let them do their jobs without being questioned?
We are brought up with our parents being in authority over us. We do what we are told, “because I said so.” But after a few years of this, we are granted more privileges until we are on our own and making our own decisions. We (typically) respect our parents because we choose to. They aren’t simply this impersonal power looming over us, so we are able to relate and slowly wean ourselves away. We always respect the authority we grew up with, but we don’t have to submit to it when we leave home. This is when we become adults and think for ourselves. We are not given this freedom to the same extent when it comes to our government. The government gives us new freedoms at ages like sixteen, eighteen, and twenty-one, but besides that, we never fully “leave the nest” like when we leave the authority of our parents. The government is always a power in our lives.
One way we can control this is by voting. We can choose which candidate we agree with and can see expressing good authority. But some citizens, like myself, are 1) not educated in politics enough to confidently vote on the issues, and 2) have too many different ideas to be fully content with voting on one person. I have many liberal views and many conservative views. The beliefs I have are very contrasting, so whichever side I vote for, whether democratic or republican, I won’t be satisfied with my choice because both will in the end disappoint me anyway.
Civil disobedience is a non-violent protest of the government. Thoreau wrote about civil disobedience in his own life when he stopped paying his taxes. He felt as though it was not fair that he had to pay taxes to benefit others when no one was paying taxes to benefit him. In this way, he has a point. While I do not agree that we should stop paying taxes to protest the government, I do agree that everyone should benefit from the money circulating the country. Civil disobedience does not just have to be a governmental protest. When any group is not holding up to the standards they have publicized, they may be subject to a civil disobedience protest. Like the story of my senior year I told in class, my high school English class was not holding up the morals of the school and when we went to the “authority” of the school, he did not use that authority to change what was happening. This led to us dropping out of the school and refusing to pay for the rest of the semester. This is an example of disobedience similar to Thoreau’s.
Government demonstrates both power and authority. But these two are not the same thing. Until the differences are known and used, we cannot fully give our attention and respect, because the government is not even aware of the two kinds. It is our choice and duty to educate ourselves in the ways of the government so we are able to decide as a country who we want representing us and making decisions for its citizens.