Can You Trust Authority

Who can you Trust

The media, politicians, scientists, doctors, dieticians, business people, teachers, friends and family- who can you trust?

There is a natural inclination to want to trust and believe the people we interact with, after all, why would anyone want to lie or deceive us. Everyone has an opinion and when speaking of authority figures, this opinion is considered to be a professional opinion, therefore making it of higher value and integrity. The question is- how do we know that this integrity has not been compromised?

Personal Motivation

Consider a person struggling to get by, to pay their bills, keep a roof over their family's head and food on the table or what about a drug addict compelled by their addiction to do wrong- both in desperate need, both stand to lose if they do not act. If acting with integrity has failed or isn’t yielding the desired result then integrity stands in the way of their survival and that of their family’s. What is one to do in such a situation? Whether it is survival or addiction, good people can be pushed to ignore their internal value system for the sake of survival.

But what about the case of the person who isn’t in a desperate situation, but stands to lose their status, livelihood, social circle, reputation and lifestyle if they do not tow the line? Would a person in a position of authority push some of their values and honesty aside to maintain these aspects. Once a individual reaches a certain level of success, wealth and status in their life, they are compelled to maintain this level. If they lose, their family stands to lose and possibly even their community. Would someone shift their values slightly, turn a blind eye or promote something they silently disagree with? Would you? Would you push a product, an idea, a concept, knowledge, information or advice to keep what you have? Would you risk your big house, the beautiful suburb you live in, your children’s private schooling, your expensive car, your professional connections and your amazing lifestyle just for the sake of telling a slight mistruth? Most people wouldn’t. This is especially true when the mistruth is only minor, can be justified or is deemed to be innocent in effect.

People may start with high values, morals and integrity but as they are burdened with the anxiety of potential loss, these values are tested. Some people will find a way to maintain their integrity but many will be influenced, some only slightly but for others the shift is more profound.

We are only Human

There seems to be tendency to believe those in positions of authority, but what we sometimes forget is the people providing the advice and information are only human, just like the rest of us. We must understand this important truth, that human beings are flawed, prone to influence, bias, anxiety and misguided perception.

“The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”

― Winston S. Churchill

There is only one truth in most cases, but there are infinite possibilities when it comes to the perception of truth. Perception can be shaped, influenced and eroded, even for those among us with high levels of self-awareness. We must remember that truth and fact are only as good as the awareness and honesty behind them. As humans, we are prone to unconscious bias, meaning we are influenced beyond our awareness. This unconscious bias creates an internal influence and leads to confirmation bias, but also denial and ignorance. All human beings have motivations, needs, agendas, beliefs and identities, all of which shape our thoughts and behaviours.

Ask yourself this question- Do you really believe that simply because an individual is considered to be a professional or expert, they automatically transcend all of their inherent human flaws?

Consider the following individuals and groups- the media, politicians, scientists, doctors, dieticians, business people, teacher’s friends and family and reflect upon this question.

If you looked, would you find examples from each and every one of these different groups that would demonstrate beyond a doubt the fact that they can be wrong, they can be bias, they can be manipulated, they can and will lie and they can even be criminal?

Of course you would. An academic record, qualification, position of authority or personal relationship does not guarantee transcendence beyond the human state. It is important to note that the goal of this article isn’t to demonize professionals, teachers, the media and the like, but to instead demonstrate the fact that there are hidden motivations and influences at play wherever a human being is present. All humans are flawed in one way or another the main difference highlighted in this article being the level of influence and authority one has over others.

When you receive advice and information from authority figures, it is important to look beyond the surface and peel back the layers to the human being in front of you.

· Who are they?

· What do they stand to lose?

· What is influencing them?

· What compels them?

· How do they think?

· What do they believe?

These questions among others will help you to understand how the factors at play behind the superficial exterior of the individual.

External Influence

How do external factors shape, compel and influence those in positions of authority? In most cases the influence stems from a need to protect ones reputation, source of income, status and lifestyle. Most professionals follow the expectations outlined by the relevant governing body, some are funded by interest groups, corporations and boards. Beyond funding and governance, there is also the influence of similar professionals in the same environment. Take for example teachers and lecturers. Generally speaking teachers and lectures are part of an institution, this institution promotes certain ideals, concepts, values and a specific culture. What would happen to a teacher or lecturer who decided to go against the herd in an outward manner? They would almost certainly be shunned and passively forced out of their position citing an incompatibility with the dominant culture. All professionals must consider their stakeholders, investors, governing body and source of income, or they stand to lose everything. The fear of such a loss would be too much to bear considering the effort, time and investment it requires to reach such levels of professional practice.

The media is no different- who funds the media and who pays the wages? Journalistic integrity has to a great extent been destroyed and replaced by an agenda driven focus, bent on maintaining and acquiring power through influence.

It is important to understand that positions of authority are funded and governed externally, beyond the individual you see in front of you or on the television. The question is who has managed to maintain their integrity and who hasn’t. The vast majority of professionals in most cases have maintained their integrity, practicing, teaching, giving advice and providing information with little to no loss of honesty or integrity, however this is not always the case.

The Point

The point of this article is to understand that behind every individual, even those in positions of authority, there are different factors and a history of conditioning pulling the strings and influencing the outcomes. The point is to realize that even authority can be corrupt and self-serving. Even professionals will practice and promote against their inner values to preserve their source of income, status and lifestyle. There is always something beneath the surface; you just have to be willing to take the time to peel the layers back in order to reveal the truth.