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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Commentary: Taming our inner authoritarian

By Debilyn Molineaux The Fulcrum

I believe in the sovereignty of each individual. Except when (fill in your favorite opinion).

This is how I’ve come to recognize my inner authoritarian. There’s a part of me that wishes people would do things my way, because I’m the obvious authority. That’s a laugh!

My inner authoritarian pops up when I feel unsafe by the choices others make for their own lives. I believe their actions might harm or negatively impact me – often accompanied by an authoritative opinion of mine they need to hear. I want them to make different choices or have different beliefs. Behind all those machinations, I want to feel safe with a sense of belonging. Of course, when others voice authoritative opinions about what I should do, I am irritated. And resistant. Don’t tell me what to do!

My internal struggle is one of humanity’s struggles. We see it on display on (name your issue). And so the never-ending tension between individual rights and community responsibility continues. Enshrined in the Pledge of Allegiance are these closing words: “With liberty and justice, for all.” This sentiment is representative of our tension between individuals (freedom) and community (justice). It’s our ability to navigate between the individual and collective that keeps the authoritarians outside of our government. Authoritarians are rigid, dogmatic and thrive by creating an enemy of anyone or anything not aligned with “their way.”

Governing in our democratic republic requires negotiation, compromise, acknowledgment of other’s perspectives as valid and a willingness to be uncomfortable throughout the entire process. It requires an openness to being changed by another person, too.

And yet, when we see our priorities or our way of life threatened by calls to change the status quo, we turn to the authoritarian who promises to NOT compromise. Governing becomes difficult, and then impossible without compromise. We’ve lived this in real time. Governing takes a backseat to politicking for votes. And more and more of us are rewarding authoritarian behavior with our votes.

I see authoritarian tendencies gaining power amongst the individual rights advocates who refuse to accept any responsibility for the community. And I see these same tendencies amongst the community responsibility advocates when they demand compliance from all.

Think about your favorite person at 2 years old. At times, every 2-year-old demands their way, throws tantrums and exhibits rigidity. They are learning about themselves as an individual. That 2-year-old’s feeling of wanting “my way!” is screaming in the United States today.

Given the divergent ideas about how we proceed as a nation, we are all shouting at each other to wake up, get the accurate information and make the right choice. And then we’ll all feel safe. Except we won’t. Even if (or when) we comply, we will harbor resentment and other hard feelings.

Here are some real-life statements from my friends and family that concern me:

• Everyone should be forced to get vaccinated because I’m tired of having to stay home and they are only thinking of themselves.

• When I was in the military, they just told you to line up and they vaccinated you. You didn’t have a say in the matter. Why is there a discussion on this?

• I should have a choice over what happens to my body – whether it’s a vaccination or an abortion.

• I hope that they don’t decide to take my retirement and give it to other people.

• The riots were an assault on democracy. (Offered by two different people, one talking about the Black Lives Matters protests of 2020, the other about the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the Capitol.)

• No compromise with fascists is possible. (Offered by a liberal friend, but similar in tone to a conservative friend calling the Democrats tyrants.)

I offer a path out of this mess.

Let’s agree to grow emotionally. To acknowledge the need for both individual rights and community responsibility. Let’s acknowledge there are many conflicting facts and even more conflicting opinions. Let’s act with kindness towards one another, recognizing under most of our disputes is fear due to feeling a loss of control.

We are the authority in our own lives, but our control stops there. The rest of life is a series of relationships, compromise and choices. Here’s my list to stop my inner authoritarian in its tracks:

• Accept that I can only choose for myself.

• Other people can make choices for themselves and I don’t have to agree with them.

• Call a friend who listens well; share what deeply matters to you, and why.

• Return the favor, and listen to your friend as they talk about what matters to them. Don’t offer opinions or advice.

• Engage in conversations that result in building trust and a sense of belonging.

• Spend no more than 30 minutes on social media, daily.

• Vote for people who work well with others.

• Stop paying attention to the conflict entrepreneurs. They are not worth our time or energy.

Our government is a reflection of our collective will. Politics are a reflection of our collective behavior. If we want anti-authoritarian people to be elected, we have to recruit them, raise money and vote for them. We need to withhold what we control – our votes and our donations – to minimize their influence and power.

Together, we can ensure our nation survives, thrives and represents us all. Individuals make up the community, after all. E pluribus unum.

Debilyn Molineaux is co-publisher of The Fulcrum and president/CEO of the Bridge Alliance Education Fund.

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