We’re all taught – and women especially are taught – that it is a virtue to be obedient.    I’ve never been entirely convinced of this.    Why should it be good to obey others, and follow their judgement, rather than one’s own?

Let’s be clear.   I’m not talking anarchy here.   Children need to obey their parents for their very survival.    When you enter certain institutions, or take up certain posts, you accept in doing so certain obligations which may include obedience to a certain set of rules.    Some occupations – the defence forces, the civil service – do require the job holder to adhere to instructions and only in very exceptional circumstances would one be entitled to resist, and even then the first option if one found oneself in an untenable position would be to remove oneself from those circumstances.        Good manners dictate that for example when you are someone’s guest you have agreed that while that status is maintained, their rules and customs will be followed.    There is also the practical consideration that under certain circumstances if you don’t follow the rules, you will be arrested and other unpleasant consequences will follow.    So I hope I am a good citizen, obey the rules (if I think them just), pay my taxes (well, John does it for me), have good manners, etc.    But I do those things because I want to live in a civilised society, and that is how I wish to behave.

When anyone tells me what to do (which doesn’t happen often these days), I think, who are you, what business have you with me,  do I want to do this, and what penalty or advantage will follow if I comply or not.

Some people however seem naturally disposed to obey instructions.    I once watched some silly competition where people had to collect certain items in a limited time.   Some of those could be obtained from a supermarket, and were in plain view, but  the aisle was fenced off with paper and a sign saying, This aisle is closed.   To my absolute astonishment, more than one team was brought to a complete halt by this flimsy barrier.   I’m afraid I’d have lifted the barrier and removed what I wanted without even pausing to think twice about it.   What did it matter, and what was whoever had put the barrier there going to do about it anyway?  If there was  some good reason, this ought to have been explained.

I thoroughly disapprove of any occupation where you swear to follow orders, regardless.   You have abnegated moral responsibility to someone else, who may be unfit to exercise it.   But even if their judgement is sound, it’s your own you should be following.    The action you take will be your responsibility whoever gave the order.

In the past, when I’ve occasionally said of myself, Of course there may be slight difficulties in dealing with me, I’ve always been slightly surprised when people laughed.  Because in my secret heart, I don’t really believe there are any.   Who could be more reasonable, more just, more generous even, than myself?   There’s just one small proviso.   If I’m treated right.    That is to say, not asked too many questions, given plenty of room, not told  what to do, left to my own devices, my cooperation requested but not assumed, all the known facts revealed, and no attempt made to manipulate the decision.      If these (unstated) requirements are met, I will be obliging if this is possible.   If I decide I can’t oblige,  I’ll politely decline and pass on my way.     When people do attempt to influence the decision or manipulate the outcome, I think, do they think I’m stupid, that I can’t see what’s happening?   It’s quite alright for them to state up front what they would like to happen, but not to attempt to influence the outcome covertly.

When I first wrote this, I thought, so what’s difficult about that?   But in truth I have to acknowledge that it’s not at all easy, and of course, none of this is declared, and some people are quite incapable of fulfilling these requirements.   Also although for myself the above would be my preferred mode of operation, and among those trusted by me is how I do behave, I certainly don’t invariably follow these rules.

I get along well enough with most people.   I am relatively easy going if my tranquility is not disturbed.     I’m also comparatively lazy.    If my aims will be achieved by someone else doing things, I’m happy for that to happen.   I don’t have to be in charge.   Where you run into difficulties is where people who don’t know you blunder into you.    And then I think, well, I didn’t initiate this exchange, so the outcome is their own look-out.

A woman once rang me up and asked if I was – the previous lady of the house.    I said that lady had moved elsewhere.    Oh, it doesn’t matter, she said.    Mrs X- used to distribute our material (for a charity) among her neighbours, and I’m sure you’ll want to do the same.   No, I said, actually I wouldn’t.    Why not? she asked.    I said, this wasn’t one of the ways in which I chose to contribute.   Well, she said, it’s just as well everyone isn’t like that.    I said, (giving her the opportunity to desist), that I thought I had misheard her, and she repeated the statement.   I paused for a further moment to see if she would reconsider it.   Then I said, you work for this charity?   Yes.   Well, I said, I think you ought to consider your position.   You are insolent, bad-mannered, aggressive and demanding, altogether behaving in a most unchristian manner, and you are actually damaging the reputation of the charity you work for.   You are not a suitable person to be employed in such a post.    She hissed and hung up.

Then I think, could have been kinder?   And I conclude, no.   You don’t have to do what everyone tells you, and I was reasonable;  she was not.

So.    One should of course endeavour to be kind and obliging, and behave as you would like to be treated yourself.   I like to think I’m reasonable and well disposed to other people.   Maybe not entirely predictable.   Probably not inclined to be obedient.

I don’t think automatic obedience is in any way a virtue.   We have intelligence and reasoning power in order that we can think for ourselves.

About adhocannie
I am a good natured woman with a long memory and a swift tongue. I like loooking at things and thinking about them. Also food, clothes, travel, reading, sewing. I try to see the ridiculous in things, but sobriety of reflection keeps edgting in. I have husband, children, grandchildren, friends... I feel rich in things that matter. I am a happy exile. I like writing. I do not like talking about me (though I do.). You willl be much more interesting.

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