The concept of respect and obey for a long while, most of my life actually, left me with a feeling of trepidation. I think it has to do with the way I learned its meaning and use. I was taught to respect and obey my elders, those in authority.  Something never felt right with that as a requirement of my childhood.

In 2010, as part of a certification in Organizational Development (OD) and Consulting, for the class in International OD, the reading included a chapter on Confucius. Confucius observed a number of ways the senior and junior relate. In the Chinese societal structure, seniority was assumed by the eldest male in the relationship. Husband in authority over wife, son and daughter, eldest son over siblings, etc.

What intrigued me was while the junior was observed to respect and obey, the senior was observed to consider and protect the junior. This seems to have been lost in translation over the centuries, because how many of us have ever learned that part of the equation? There does exist the observation that respect is less demanded than commanded. I venture that respect, and any resultant obedience, is commanded by those in authority when they are considerate and protective of their subordinates.  I have gone on to realize that the senior and junior roles appear more fluid in Western society.  Seniority can exist simply where one person has a knowledge advantage over another, for instance. Seniority is also all too often taken for granted when dependent upon positional authority, even as parents. We have a tendency to wield authority too easily rather than exhibit leadership, by considering and protecting those in our charge and our care.

Respect and obedience are earned from followers when leaders consider follower capacity and protect their best interests. In that, I observe a deficit of leadership in positions of authority in the western culture with which I am familiar, especially in the U.S. How often do those in positions of authority, perhaps simply more intelligent or informed than another, take advantage of ignorance rather than look after the other’s best interest?

We may all find ourselves in the position of senior at various points in our lives. It is justice to consider and protect those in our charge and care if they are to respect and obey us as followers.

Most respectfully…