On Anticipatory Obedience

On Anticipatory Obedience

“I have stopped reading on HR issues” I told Lulu, my parrot, as I flung the newspaper on the table. “It no longer holds my interest.”

“Arrrey! That’s the work you did all along your career. No interest?” Lulu, my parrot, was perched on the iron grill of window.

Lulu, my parrot

“No interest, Lulu. Zilch!”

“Watching movies? You like that?”

“Nope! Emotional dramas make me uncomfortable.”

“You must be liking movies with a lot of violence. Like ‘Narcos’. Boom, boom!”

“Actually yes! At least it ends one conflict quickly. Though it leads to another.”

“So, you want all conflicts to end quickly. That’s interesting.”

“Who does not wish it?”

Jill, my Siamese cat, walked in stealthily. She jumped on my study table, settled there and glanced at Lulu who quickly moved sideways to make sure that he was not in the easy reach of Jill. Suddenly there was ‘deafening silence’ in the room.

Jill, my Siamese Cat (Pic courtesy: Alex Meier on Unsplash)

“We were discussing conflicts, Jill. And how everybody wants conflicts to end quickly.”

Jill closed her beautiful blue eyes, and opened them as she spoke, “That’s wishful thinking. Conflicts do not end on their own. I have seen many persons taking steps to avoid conflict.”

“Yes. Many avoid it in anticipation! Tut, tut! They call it ‘anticipatory obedience’.” Lulu gave an approving nod to Jill who ignored him, twirled her tail. Jill was about to close her eyes when she noticed something, and stood up on my table.

Jack, my Great Dane entered. He surveyed the room, and stared at the sofa, looked at me and decided not to perch on it. He found a place near my chair and sat down there, wagged his tail and looked at me. I patted him.

“Yup! ‘Anticipatory Obedience.’ You got it right, Lulu. Here is an instance of anticipatory obedience…..” Jill gestured toward Jack.

“What’s that?” Jack asked.

“You imagined a constraint – and thought that perching on the sofa is not okay and won’t be approved by him,” Lulu pointed to me, “although he has said nothing to you. Didn’t you obey in anticipation.”

“And you obeyed in advance.” Jill said.

“Volumes have been written on this subject. I guess it came in sharp focus because of Hitler and his actions. But I am no Hitler.” I rubbed my hand on Jack.

“True. But presence of anybody in power can make people engage in anticipatory obedience.” Lulu said. “Don’t you see how servile politicians can be?”

“Oh yes! We see them in Congress as well as in BJP. Plenty. Who doesn’t know about Stanley Milgram’s experiment on obedience to authority?” Jill asked. “Do you know about it, Jack?”

The Great Dane did not like the question. He looked at me. “All I know is that he is my master” he said in a gruffy voice. “For me, his words are a command.”

“I was at a Grocery store yesterday. They were allowing only five persons to do shopping inside the store. Covid pandemic! Presence of a hefty security man at the entrance ensured that all stood in a queue outside. All obeyed, nobody grumbled. There is something about men in Uniform.” Lulu is a keen observer.

“There is some evidence that Hitler’s army Generals ordered many cruel actions without his express instructions. Why go that far in history? What is your experience of meetings? Many persons speak what would meet the approval of the Boss, approvingly of his line of thought as they imagine.” Jill said.

“Oh, yes. That happens everywhere. Pope said that the Earth was flat and everybody toed the line, although several men knew that it was round much before Copernicus.” Lulu said. “And those who spoke the truth were punished, like Galileo.”

Timothy Snyder puts it so aptly. He says, “Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want and then offer themselves without being asked. A citizen who adapts in this way is teaching power what it can do.”

Jack, my Great Dane (Nathalie Spehner on Unsplash)

“Do you remember what Vinda Karandikar wrote in his poem? He wrote, “My hope stands on 440 legs.” He was referring to the 220 jurors who held that Socrates was not guilty in the famous trial.” Jill said. Jack, my Great Dane, yawned. He quietly got up, shook his head and walked out.

“True. There were 500 jurors. And 280 held him guilty. Who knows, some may have engaged in anticipatory obedience and held him guilty! It happens, right?”

“Certainly, Jill. What values a leader is disclosing when he knowingly allows his team members to do anticipatory obedience?” Trust Lulu to ask deep questions.

“He poses as a democrat in the robes of a dictator” I said.

“And the team member who engages in anticipatory obedience?”

“Hmmm… Cowardice, I guess. Servility.”

“It takes an enlightened or evolved leader to avert anticipatory obedience, and invite candid views even if they are dissenting.”

“Exactly. That is why we have to allow people to express their views, and think for themselves.”

“It must begin at home; we have to allow our children to think for themselves.”

“I remember what William Kingdon Clifford said.” Lulu looked at me. “There is one thing in the world more wicked than the desire to command, and that is the will to obey.” Lulu, fluttered his wings and jumped to perch on my shoulder. Jill gave us a curious look and closed her beautiful blue eyes.

Vivek S Patwardhan

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”

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