What is Authority, Anyway?

On Monday afternoon I got a text from our twenty-one year old son who attends the University of Puerto Rico.  He texted, “Am I the only one out there who doesn’t believe Osama bin Laden is dead?”  I responded, “No, because I’m not convinced either.”

I am so proud of our son for questioning authority and not believing everything the media and government dish out.  He’s thinking for himself. He’s asking questions.  Just because a lot of people have a particular point of view, this does not mean that it is the correct or only choice. It just means that a lot of people share a common point of view on a particular topic.  We’ve raised a skeptic and I couldn’t be happier.

I had my first taste of questioning authority in high school when I got my one and only “misconduct” for using the teacher’s bathroom.  I was spotted there by my Social Studies teacher, Mrs. Johnson (who looked a lot like that bespectacled Mrs. Beasley doll featured on the TV show Family Affair which included those obedient six-year-old brother and sister twins - Buffy and Jody).  Anyway, Mrs. Johnson ‘wrote me up’ and my best-friend-accomplice and I were summoned to the Main Office.  When it was time to tell my side of the story I explained that the girl’s bathroom was smoky, I didn’t want to smell like cigarettes, so I used the teacher’s bathroom.  The misconduct slip was torn up. 

As an aside, I eventually wound up teaching in that same high school, in the same department as Mrs. Johnson.  She once showed up empty-handed at a Potluck Faculty Party because she left a crockpot full of chili on the top of her car as she fiddled around with her keys and then forgot it was bubbling away on the roof of her car.  I just love the visual image of an oblivious Mrs. Beasley – a pot of hot chili flying off of her car as other drivers beeped and pointed! 

Thinking without questioning is like drinking without swallowing. It isn’t easy to question authority and probably much easier to be a passive recipient of information, accepting and believing a media that only gives us one perspective. A large part of what we believe and understand about the world comes from where and when we grew up. We tried to teach our kids to be independent thinkers, not robots or parrots.  The important thing though is to teach a child to respectfully question, and to do it at appropriate times. 

Aristotle wrote, ‘It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.’ Here’s to my son’s educated mind!



Velya Jancz-Urban


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