Natural and Moral Authority

Natural authority is the dominion of natural laws. You can’t ignore natural laws, and you have no choice but to operate by them. All actions have consequences. Like it or not, when we pick up one end of the stick we pick up the other. If you jump off a ten-story building, you can’t change your mind at the fifth story. Gravity controls. That is the stamp of nature. Nature has also stamped people with the freedom and power to choose, and, therefore, they have natural authority or dominion over all of the rest of creation. Endangered species survive only by our consent. They don’t have freedom and power to choose. They lack self-awareness. They can’t reinvent themselves. This is natural authority.

What is moral authority? It is the principled use of our freedom and power to choose. In other words, if we follow principles use of our freedom and ships with each other, we tap into the permission of nature. Natural laws (like gravity) and principles (like respect, honesty, kindness, integrity, service and fairness) control the consequences of our choices. Just as you get bad air and bad water when you consistently violate the environment, so also is trust (the glue of relationship) destroyed when you’re consistently unkind and dishonest to people. By the principled, humble use of freedom and power, the humble person obtains moral authority with people, cultures, organizations and entire societies.

Values are social norms- they’re personal, emotional, subjective and arguable. All of us have values. Even criminals have values. The question you must ask yourself is, Are your values based upon principles? In the last analysis, principles are natural laws- they’re impersonal, factual, objective and self-evident. Consequences are governed by principles, and behavior is governed by values; therefore, value principles!

People who are “star struck” (celebrity obsessed) are an example of those whose values may not be anchored in principles. Popularity shapes their moral center. They don’t know who they are and don’t know which way “north” is. They don’t know what principles to follow because their lives are based on social values. They are torn between social awareness and self-awareness on the one hand and natural law and principles on the other. In an airplane, that’s called vertigo, where you lose all sense of reference to the ground (principles) and you become completely lost. Many people walk through life with vertigo or moral mushiness. We all see people like this. You see them in your life and in popular culture. They’ve never paid the price of getting deeply centered or of anchoring their values in changeless principles.

The key task, then, is to determine where “true north” is and then to align everything toward that. Otherwise, you’ll live with the inevitable negative consequences that follow. Again, they are inevitable because even though values control behavior, principles control the consequences of behavior. Moral authority requires the sacrifice of short-term selfish interests and the exercise of courage in subordinating social values to principles. And our conscience is the repository of those principles.

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