Obedience needs a fresh look, and it begins with those in a position of rightful authority. A line from the Rule of St. Augustine echoes in my mind, “Those in authority should not lord it over those subject to them.” The need for this line in the rule of life for monastic communities shows that “lording authority” is not new and a reminder that to humbly serve is a mark of a true leader.
The means to a fresh look lay in the word obey. It comes from the Latin word obedire, which means “to listen to.” The first question one should ask is, “How can I lead so others will listen and not resist?” From my experience, this is essential and takes a while to establish the bonds of mutual respect and trust. It requires a spirit of docility and humility to listen and let the other person realize that they matter. It is risky to allow dialogue to take place, but how else will you know what those entrusted to your authority are thinking if you don’t listen?
Of course, a proper balance is necessary for the authentic living of obedience. Someone has to make the decisions, but if you wish to move the mission forward it is always healthier to have everyone going in the same direction. The virtues of obedience, docility, and humility are essential to building the relationships needed for collaboration and unity. I encourage you to take a fresh look at obedience through this lens and see if others follow more willingly and readily.