Friday, December 21, 2007

Blind Obedience

Once upon a time... A now ex-girlfriend said that we had to eat fish for dinner during the upcoming Friday. "Why," I asked? She said, "Because it's Good Friday." I replied, "I know that. I would like to know why you eat fish on Good Friday." She angrily replied, "Because that's what you do on Good Friday. It's part of my religion."

I use this example because I was genuinely interested in the why involved in the decision not to eat meat on Good Friday. I eventually found out from a coworker that the reason was to make a sacrifice symbolizing the sacrifices Jesus Christ had to make in dying for our sins. Even though I'm not religious, I found this to be reasonable because I now understood why I was going to have fish for dinner.

My ex-girlfriend's response is a good example of what could be best called blind obedience.

On the way home from a friend's house tonight, I watched a driver in front of me pull into the right-hand turn lane. Just before making the turn (after stopping), the person then turned on their right-turn signal and made the turn. The person obviously didn't know why they needed to use their turn signal except that the law says they have to do so (blind obedience). The reason for using turn signals is to inform the drivers around you that you are going to attempt a lane change or turn. If people understood why they were required to use their turn signals, they might actually use them prior to actually attempting the operation, not during it or just before cutting-off the driver next to them. Turn signals are to help the drivers around you understand your intentions (it doesn't guarantee that you will be able to do what you intend).

Blind obedience doesn't mean you know why and you do something even though you don't want to do it. It's not turning on the TV but not knowing why the electrons flow the way they do. Blind obedience is doing what someone or society tells you to do without having a clue why you're doing it.

The one thing worse than blind obedience is when someone who is blindly obedient demands that someone else do the same thing as they are, "just because you have to do it."

Part of what makes us human is our ability to understand our surroundings, not just react to them. Blind obedience strips us of this ability to understand. It makes us less human.

Understanding why you are performing an action gives more meaning to the action. If it's a religious tradition or activity, it gives meaning to that action. It allows you to have a deeper understanding of your religion. In driving, it allows you to be a better, more defensive, driver. Understanding why you're doing what you do means that you make better, more informed, decisions.

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