Authority

What is authority and how is it given? Is it conferred with a degree? Granted with certification? Is it an advanced degree, or a title, or a position that determines authority?

I have several degrees, more than a couple certifications, and I have been given the title of principal of a middle school. But with what kind of authority do I have to lead my teachers, my students or my school?

I will admit I am a rule follower and for the majority of my life I didn’t really question authority. I did what was asked of me because a person in authority asked me to do it, and I didn’t really question that.

But now I find myself in an interesting position. I am in a position of authority, but there are also others who have authority over me. I am constantly making decisions based on interactions with others who have authority over me that also influence my interactions those whom I have authority over.

I argue that authority isn’t something that should simply be given or granted, but rather it is something that should be earned. Authority isn’t a power or a right, but instead it is earned because of your experience, and more importantly, your actions.

A quote from something we read in church today challenges us to:

Live honestly, act courageously and to speak from our wisdom.

Maybe that is what authority is all about.

If we can live honestly, anticipate honesty from others, and make honest decisions about why we do things then I think we gain the power and confidence to exercise authority over others.

Authority is also about acting courageously and making difficult decisions. People in authority need to be strong enough to make difficult decisions, and honest enough to defend why they made those decisions.

Finally authority comes from speaking from wisdom, our individual, personal wisdom as well as the collective wisdom of those whom we exercise authority over.

I question these traits in the people who have authority over me.

Are they being honest? Are their intentions explicit and straightforward?

Are they acting courageously? Are they willing to make and defend difficult decisions? Are they willing to say no to something that isn’t right? And say yes to something that isn’t easy?

Are they speaking from wisdom, both personal and collective?

And am I doing these things as well?

My teachers should expect honesty in their interactions with me. I try my best to make my intentions honest and straightforward.

I try to act courageously in all things I do. I challenge the status quo when need be. And I push for the difficult things that I think are important.authority

And I spend a great deal of time trying to learn the collective wisdom of my school and speak from that wisdom as my own.

When we listen, care, and respect those whom we have authority over, trust is built, and trust is the foundation for inspiring others to believe in you, and that is when real authority is developed.

Experiences

A recent blog post suggestion asked what would your present self tell your 10 years ago self. 10 years is an interesting timeframe for me as I am 1 year out of a 10-year long marriage. As I look back on the past 10 years, actually on the past 20 years, I would have liked to have been able to spare myself some of the heart ache and pain. I would have liked to tell myself to be smarter and not get involved with this man, or that man. But in the end, who I am today has been shaped by each choice and each decision that I have made. Who I am and where I am is because of the events that have happened in my life. Hopefully some of the wisdom I have gained from those experiences will help me to help others.

Over the past few weeks I have talking to 13-year-old girl about a horrible event that happened to her. She had a bad start to the school year and was acting in a way that I thought was out of character for her. She was being down right mean. I had a few occasions to talk to her, and one of those times she told me in detail about the horrible thing that happened to her last year. And while I thought that no 13-year-old should ever have to go through what she endured, it started to make sense to me as to why she was so angry and mean.

A few of the things we talked about really resonated with me and made me appreciate what I have been through, if only to help this girl.

One of the things we talked about was the meanness of people. She was talking about how mad she would get when people made jokes or comments about her. Many of the kids knew generic, and often incorrect, information about what happened to her, so when they made comments or did things, she overreacted to them because it was so raw and painful. She said to me, “Ms. S. you can’t tell me that when someone is talking about you, you are just going to sit there and take it. You get mad and want to get back at them.”

I told her that people could be mean at any age.

At the end of last year I told my teachers that I would be going back to using my maiden name. I wanted to be sure they knew so that they were not surprised when emails started coming from me with my new last name. Most of the teachers don’t know the details of my divorce, nor do they need to. But I happened to overhear two of them talking about me, snidely commenting on me being divorced, again. It hurt. I didn’t like what they were saying. I didn’t like the judgment they were passing on me because it was such a raw and painful experience for me.

When I told her this story she said, “You could fire them.” I laughed, not for that. But I did still have to work with these teachers professionally. So we talked about taking the high road and knowing that my real friends understood and were there to support me. I also admitted to her that it did hurt. I didn’t like people talking about me. I didn’t like people judging me. But what was more important than what they said and that they were talking about me, was my reaction to them. I couldn’t control them. I could only control me and my reaction to them.

After one of our conversations she told her mom that she told me the whole story. She told her mom that after we talked she felt “lighter.” One of the things I tried to stress to her was that she was not alone. While most other 13-year-olds would not understand or be able to relate to what she had been through, I tried to assure her that she isn’t alone.

She told me later that when I shared with her some of my experiences she felt better. She said it helped to know that someone else understood what she was feeling and that she isn’t alone. I have noticed that she does look lighter. I’ve seen her smile more. I’ve seen her be a little kid again talking about silly junior high stuff. And I’ve seen her smile at me with a warmth that comes from knowing that someone else gets it.

She has talked about moving to a different school next year and I cautioned her that running away isn’t the answer. It might seem easier at times, but this isn’t something to outrun, but rather something to outlive. I encouraged her to think about what would be best for her. And in the end, she has to make decisions for her future, not simply to escape her past.

It’s easy to run. It’s easy to get mad. It’s easy to act like you don’t care. But in the end, what happens to us shapes who we are and who we become.

I was married, and divorced, twice. I have been in abusive and controlling relationships. I have been victimized, but I am not a victim. I am a survivor.

So if everything that I have been through over the past 20 years has helped this little girl know she isn’t alone, then it is all worth it.

If I could, I would tell my younger self that you are stronger than you think and you will have to deal with a lot, but in the end you will help others.

Gentle

Be gentle with yourself

Two people in the past few days have told me to be gentle with myself. That is something I am not good at. I expect perfection from myself at all times needless to say, I’m often disappointed. I am very gentle with my students, most of the time. And very gentle with my teachers, again, most of the time. But I’m very hard on myself.

Today was a tough day. Bringing my older son back to college was tough. I adore him and I love having him home with me. So having to leave him at college is heart breaking. This is his second year, so I knew what was going to happen and I knew we would all survive the year. But it was still tough.

In addition to the emotional struggles the day presented, there were also financial stumbling blocks. This past year has been hard, both emotionally and financially. A divorce is not easy, nor is it cheap. And college is definitely not cheap.

But facing the fact that I am still struggling financially makes me feel like a failure. I wish I could take care of my son’s college expenses. I wish he could graduate without debt. I wish finances weren’t an issue. But wishing doesn’t make it so.

So after tears and stress and frustration and kind words from my sister-in-law. I’m going to try to listen to her advice and be gentle with myself. I’m in a better financial place this year than I was one year ago. But it’s going to take some time to really get back on my feet. It’s going to take time, and I have to learn to be patient and gentle with myself.

As my blog title suggest, I’m still a work in progress, and being gentle with myself is something that is still in progress.

Sharing the load

The Daily Prompt: Second Opinion

One of the hardest things about being divorced is being the one responsible to make all the decisions all the time. I would love to have the opportunity to have someone in my life who will share their opinion with me. 

I’m sure some of you married people out there might be thinking “I get to make all the decisions by myself? All the time?” and you might be thinking that it would be pretty great to make all the decisions.  But it isn’t just about making the decision and getting to do what you want, it is bigger than that.

I make decisions all day long at work. Some decisions I have the opportunity to think about for a while and get other people’s opinion on, and other times I have to make decisions on the spot. I try to be thoughtful about all of the decisions I make. But in the end, the decision and the responsibility for that decision, falls to me.

Being a single mother, I make most of the decisions at home too. I try to let my sons decide some of the smaller stuff, but for the big stuff, the decision ultimately rests with me. This summer I had to make some pretty big decisions about cars. I had to get a new car for me, and I had to replace my son’s car. I don’t know a lot about cars and I would have loved to have someone else helping me make those decisions. I would have loved to have a second opinion. But in the end, the decision and the responsibility for the decision was up to me.

Making the decision isn’t really the issue, it’s the idea of having someone else to talk to about it. It’s about discussing the pros and cons and getting someone else’s opinion. It’s about having thinking it through and having someone else there to share the load with.