Many people think obedience means merely following instructions. In other words, someone in authority gives you an order or directive and you follow it. But what if your authority is “out from under authority?”
One of the criticisms we often face when teaching the principle of authority is that we are advocating blind obedience. Nothing could be further from the truth. We recognize that there are times when an authority has made a bad decision and it is proper to make an appeal….
In order to make an appeal in court, there must be constitutional or procedural grounds. Otherwise there is no basis for the appeal. You cannot make an appeal simply because you disagree with the decision. In fact, the character test for obedience is often found in your willingness to follow directions that you disagree with.
In a character-based organization, “grounds” fall into two categories: ethical violations or additional information. If your authority instructs you to violate a clearly defined ethical or legal standard, you have grounds to make an appeal. And to respectfully disobey if necessary.
More often… you have additional information that may influence your authority’s decision. In this case, you have grounds to bring this information to their attention. Examples could be pointing out a consequence of the decision that your supervisor may not have considered. Or, it could be informing them of a prior conflicting instruction that you had received from another supervisor. Or, maybe there is a well-established law or policy that prohibits that course of action.
In addition to having grounds for an appeal, you must also have “standing.” In other words, you must be in a lawful position to address the court. The same is true in making an appeal to an authority. Your standing is established through your reputation of good character. If you have been a faithful and loyal employee, then you have the right to make an appeal.
While I was on vacation at Hacienda Tres Rios, I was reading the book 1776 by David McCollough.
It reminded me of the Authority Maxim which states that “all human authority is delegated authority” — it always flows from a higher source. So I climbed up a mangrove tree just to tell you about it…
Our Founders understood this Authority Maxim and wrote it into our founding documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. Understanding this principle gives a professional police officer power to be more effective. By relying on positional authority instead of ego power, an officer can more effectively deal with difficult individuals who decide to challenge his authority. And “Because I said so, that’s why!” is NOT the professional response…
And just to prove that I did, in fact, climb a mangrove tree to film that last clip…
More video from Tres Rios: Dangerous Encounter with the Ferocious Mexican Coati
Merry CHRISTmas, everyone!
My family and I just returned from a fantastic vacation in Riviera Maya, Mexico (south of Cancun). We stayed at a beautiful resort called Hacienda Tres Rios (a place I highly recommend, by the way), which is surrounded by a nature preserve. There are 10 cenotes, or underground springs, that feed the three rivers of Tres Rios. I hiked to one of the cenotes to film this video clip where I talk about the importance of taming the tongue…
This tongue of ours get us into SO much trouble in law enforcement. As Dr. George Thompson, the founder of Verbal Judo, says, “When words rise readily to the lips, you are about to make the greatest speech that you will ever regret!”
Even the Bible has something to say about taming the tongue. In the book of James (3:9-11), it says:
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?
At Cenote Hondo, I was reminded of the Bible’s reference to a spring producing both fresh and salt water. It is so important for us as professional law enforcement officers to control our tongue — and not only WHAT we say, but HOW we say it (which is what generates most of our citizen complaints). Remember, the Miranda warnings can apply to you, too: whatever YOU say can and will be used against you in court…
For anyone interested in Tres Rios, here is the promo video…
One of my former deputies wrote a research paper for his college course on ethics training. He included a section about his experiences with the Sheriff’s Office that I thought you might enjoy reading. His comments are about our philosophy regarding policies:
I had the privilege of working for a great sheriff in Dorchester County, SC. When I started working for Sheriff Ray Nash, I had just transfered from a much larger agency where everything was controlled by the policy manual and if you made a decision that a person of higher rank did not approve of, they would pour over the policy manual, which was in excess of three inches thick, to see if they could find something to punish you for “ethically.”
My Dorchester County policy manual (was so thin it) looked like a church bulletin — it was less than 20 pages long and in paperback. Sheriff Nash’s philosophy was to give his employees a few concrete moral lessons and then take those lessons out into the field and make our decisions not based on just a policy manual and the law, but on ethical principles. His belief was if you make ethically and morally correct decisions then those decisions will (also) be legally correct and will not violate policy. It is a philosophy I still carry with me today…
I appreciate his understanding of this important topic. Policies are important and you have to have them in a high liability profession like law enforcement. But I also believe that it is impossible to write a policy for every conceivable situation an officer might find himself in. Some of us have attempted to do so and that’s why our policy manuals look like an encyclopedia volume!
I much prefer to focus on principles. Because I believe it is possible to articulate a much smaller number of ethical principles that will guide officers through a myriad of situations that they might find themselves in. That’s what Police Dynamics is — my effort to articulate these principles that govern our relationships and the profession of law enforcement.
Here is the long-awaited video of the Centurion, filmed on location in Capernaum, Israel. The Dynamic of Authority is the centerpiece of the Police Dynamics message. And the account of the Centurion is the focal point of that dynamic. I had an incredible opportunity to relate this story from Matthew 8:5-13 standing in the very synagogue built by this amazing government leader.
The best historical illustration of a man under authority happened about 2000 years ago in this little village along the Sea of Gallilee. The Centurion assigned to this post was the representative of Roman governmental authority. He was the law enforcement official of that time, responsible for maintaining the law, order, health, safety, and morals of that community. As modern day centurions, his story is pivotal for any law enforcement officer or government official eager to gain an understanding of this important principle.
Here is some more video from Capernaum showing the outside of the synagogue, St. Peter’s home (under the glass dome), and the Sea of Gallilee.