Lose the Crap = Don’t Take the Crap
Abuse of authority or power is something most of us agree is a bad thing, whether it involves an absolute dictator, a priest, a parent, a teacher, or the manager of a fast-food restaurant. But where there is power, there is also the handing over of power, to varying degrees. In instances where we accept that another adult has godlike or patriarchal authority, we abdicate exercising our authority over ourselves.
No, Your Eminence!
Respect for authority is not the same as blind obedience. Consciousness of an hierarchy, a structured order, is a useful way to keep a society running smoothly and for the greater good. But both parties, the leader and the led, are expected to assume the other role as needed. In situations where the leader is seen as infallible, however, delusion is in play–and where there is delusion, there is often abuse in some form or other.
The abdication of one’s authority and power is not always a conscious one, particularly if you’ve been brought up in an environment where someone holds total authority. You are conditioned to place your total trust in that authority figure, and any attempt to question or challenge that authority is quickly and thoroughly knocked down, ridiculed, or somehow censored. If others around you are blindly obedient, or even grudgingly obedient, there is no example of how to respectfully disagree. Learning to think for yourself is fraught with risk, because some form of excommunication, of the nuclear option, is always an explicit or underlying threat: abandon total obedience, and you in turn will be totally abandoned. Social animals that we are, it can be difficult to risk abandonment, which in turn gives authority yet another tool to control us.
Sentimentality plays on fears of abandonment, as well. “Specialness” is assigned to certain gifts and tokens to indicate the ties that bind us to others. We are encouraged to give them, to receive them, and to keep them, as if the objects are as precious as the relationship itself. Many of us have avoided tossing out old birthday, Valentine’s, and Christmas cards, as well as other gifts and mementos, because doing so would suggest we’re tossing out the relationship, as well. Such items are said to be kept “for the memories,” but the deeper truth is that they are kept as emotional crutches. Likewise, we are afraid of asserting our preferences over the preferences others assign to us, as in the form of gifts and items handed down in the family, so we hang on to those white elephants forever, no matter how useless or unappealing they may be.
I think that people raised in an authoritarian environment are vulnerable to other forms of voiced authority, such as marketers, because they are conditioned to not question what is being said. They are also vulnerable to inordinate belief in heroes (romantic and otherwise), because of the early learned rewards of looking up to someone without question, to idolize. The flip side is not thinking of ourselves as good, as important, as worthy as those in authority or who are held in similarly high esteem. Not going along with with what’s being asserted or having someone to idealize easily leads to feelings of alienation, and can in practice lead to some form of actual abandonment when there’s an entire group buying into the message or the idol.
A sense of security derived from obeisance to authority, then, can only be had within the embrace of authority figures, making it incredibly difficult to find a way out of this behavioral pattern and provide your own sense of security. But it can be done.
One of the unexpected benefits of going minimalist was the sense of personal freedom that grew from detaching myself from the need to own and keep everything, and from breaking up with the implied significance of material things. When I stopped recreational shopping and exposing myself to the bait of magazine spreads and other forms of product lure, I woke up to the impact of advertising. When I divested myself of half a lifetime’s worth of things that were saved but unused, I restored the balance between the worth of my life in the here and now and the worth of my past, thus increasing my sense of security. When I moved from tentative decluttering of a closet to getting rid of huge amounts of unneeded things, my sense of personal authority grew–I was determining what was important, how I wanted to live, and every other element of my life and identity.
Clarity moved in when clutter moved out. By increasing my relative sense of worth to myself, the value of my time and energy skyrocketed. Things I worked hard at really had to give something back, or they weren’t worth doing. I stopped forcing myself to bend to others’ wills just to make nice. I started saying “No!” when I had serious objections or wanted to protect my time and energy.
Perhaps the result can be reduced to a formula: Lose the Crap = Don’t Take the Crap.
Of course, not everyone who takes a minimalist path will either experience or even need to experience this kind of empowerment. Much depends upon the root of the original accumulating behavior. But nearly any kind of compulsive behavior is a symptom of anxiety, and the anxiety in turn stems from insecurity on some fundamental level. I’m willing to bet that unchallenged authority plays a role in creating insecurity and undefined anxiety for a large number of us. And in a capitalist culture like ours it’s easy to channel anxiety into accumulating and even hoarding.
Could it be that opting out of group-think of any kind would enable us to be better watchdogs over society as a whole? If you look at one part of your world with your eyes open, wouldn’t it extend to looking at the rest of it the same way? Would we see our leaders and our heroes and our trend-setters and our voices of authority with interest and respect–but only as long as they earn it? Looking askance at authority figures means asking yourself, “What’s in it for them?” and “What’s really in it for me?” It means not being like little children and letting leaders get away with abusing their power because we’ve always automatically done what they tell us to do.
Aren’t we, as individuals, worth more than that?