We Can’t Make You Believe, But We Can Make You Behave

As I have frequently noted, among the chief problems of our age is bad behavior, in acts of protests and what-not [1].  Often one hears people justify their bad behavior by their beliefs about people and places.  This is a problematic course of behavior on several levels.  For those who believe in the Bible, the behavior of honoring and respecting authorities is required separately of one’s feelings and beliefs about them.  We can believe, with good reason, that authorities are corrupt and that their behaviors are harsh and unrighteous, and yet we are commanded to honor and respect them anyway.  This is something that cuts against the grain for all of us.  This is especially true of Americans, who tend to feel entitled to behave as they wish and do not have a great deal of respect for those whom they happen to disagree with.  This has, it should be noted, caused a great deal of crisis in our own age given the large amount of disagreement that exists among us.

As a child I regularly walked around the countryside where I lived, which included a great deal of swampy and marshy areas, with ponds and creeks and large amounts of standing water.  Occasionally during my teen years I would canoe as well down the Hillsborough River and other bodies of water, and during all of these situations I had frequent critter encounters with animals that people might view dangerous, alligators and snapping turtles and water moccasins and other animals like those.  Being a generally peaceable person who had no interest in handling such creatures and not registering very high on the threat list, I had no particularly frightening encounters largely because I was neither an obvious target nor was I an obvious threat.  As a young adult living in an apartment I had a close surprise encounter with a raccoon, and that tense encounter was resolved by both of us walking different directions and leaving each other in peace.  Whatever beliefs we might have had about the other, despite our mutual surprise the absence of threatening and hostile behavior led to the preservation of peace and to a mutual avoidance of activities to harm the other.

People are remarkably adept at knowing what behaviors make them safe, and often at acting in such ways as to attempt to best manage the demands made on them.  For example, it is the habit in many nations to strongly encourage if not demand that people have pictures of a nation’s beloved leader as a way of demonstrating their love.  This cult of personality is often the sign of particularly insecure leaders who need reassurance that their people really do love them.  As human beings, obviously, we do not know what sort of feelings people harbor in their hearts.  Yet we want to see behaviors that demonstrate love and concern.  Where feelings are present, we may expect certain actions being taken that would show love and respect.  Where the consequences of rebellion are particularly harsh, and where disrespect of authorities may lead to lengthy jail time, such behaviors will be harshly curtailed not only by the actions of a vigorous police apparatus but also from the self-policing that goes on within institutions and within people who quite sensibly would rather not spend many years in terrifying jails.

We see the limitations of coercive government, yet we often do not recognize that such coercion is at the heart of all governments.  Governments do not (usually) need the active support of people in order to survive, but they cannot do without at least passive obedience.  As a result, most nations do not require a great deal of show of affection from ordinary people who are far from corridors of power and generally only reward fawning adoration from those who wish to gain something from access to power.  Those who are content to dwell in obscure areas and live their own lives need not conduct themselves obsequiously in order to live unmolested.  It is of the utmost importance, though, that people live in such a way that they are not seen to be disloyal and hostile and disobedient to government.  Whatever beliefs we may have about those in authority in institutions and governments is fairly irrelevant so long as our behavior is proper and decent.  My own views about authorities has often been quite negative, but not being inclined to be openly seditious and hostile even to authorities I happen to loathe and detest, I feel little sympathy for those who are unable to control their behavior because they let their own feelings and opinions get in the way of good breeding and gracious civility towards others.  Why should we let our feelings get in the way of good behavior anyway?

[1] See, for example:






About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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