Core Values Redux: Authority

This post is part of an ongoing challenge to go through James Clear’s list of Core Values and take a week to reflect on each one.


Authority falls into the category of Core Values that I don’t foresee being in my Top 5. Not because I am anti-authority, per se, but rather that I tend toward a neutral alignment: neither an enforcer of authority nor particularly a rebel against it.

My first impression of Authority is an image of power through punishment: the Authoritarian figurehead or regime ruled with an iron fist. Looking at the etymology, however, I’m reminded of several other definitions:

  • Authority as permission
  • Authority as derived from an author.

As in that the ‘author’ of a particular text or scripture is the Authority of that knowledge. And traditionally this has often been the case. Books were a luxury that could only be written by those with the time and means to produce them, and in so doing they would likely accumulate more knowledge on that subject than most people. Scientific authors spend years to decades researching that of which they speak via their experiments.

But how does that author-authority relation work in the world of social media? Anyone can ‘author’ a tweet or Facebook post about a current event, yet it feels like we have moved to the polar-opposite side of that being ‘Authority’. However, despite that, the ‘I did my research’ on the Internet mentality is strong, further complicating the relationship between authorship and authoritative truth.

Personally, though, I’ve been thinking about how Authority relates to Self-Esteem? In this case, Authority being not the power of the ‘collective imaginations’ Yuval Noah Harari might use to describe governments or companies, but in feeling oneself to be an Authority on a topic. To feel like you are an Authority, you need the self-confidence and self-esteem to believe that what you think about a subject is capital-T True.

However, for many of us, despite countless hours of learning and/or research, we find ourselves marred by Imposter Syndrome. Even though one might be viewed as an Authority, there is the belief that actually you don’t know anything and thus couldn’t quite possibly fill such a role. While skepticism and humility are important qualities, because they lead us to learn that in fact we can’t possibly know Everything about a given subject, it can be tricky to rectify those with Authority: you may not know everything about a subject, but how many people know more about this than you?

Ultimately, that is the part of Authority on which I am concentrating my efforts: building confidence in believing that I have authorship over subjects on which I have spent a great deal of time learning.

Next up: Autonomy

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