Posted by: thealienist | June 4, 2010

Foundations of Mental Health: Submission

We live in a society where independence is highly valued.  On the other hand, we see daily what chaos can erupt from individuals, either singly or in groups, deciding that they do not have to consider others in their decisions and behaviors.  In navigating the straits between pursuing our own goals and adapting our behaviors to the needs of our community, we can err in either direction.  In this post, I would like to consider what I believe to be a very common error, the reluctance or inability to submit.

Most people who I know are flexible in their ability to assert themselves or submit as the need arises.  Still, I believe that we all, at one time or another, find ourselves obstinately insisting on our own way and our own needs even when it might be wiser to do otherwise.  There are others I know who inflexibly refuse to consider others’ ideas and, like the 2-year-old who simply delights in telling others “No!” even when he only frustrates himself, keep a steady hand at the wheel oblivious to sightings of reefs, bars, and shoals pointed out by others.  They simply charge ahead as the captain of their own doomed ship.

Some people have problems recognizing reasons to submit to others.  You might choose to submit to those who you consider wiser or more knowledgeable than yourself.  You might choose to submit to those older than you or in a position higher than you out of simple respect for the person, their social position, or rank.  In submitting to others, we are not necessarily suggesting that we cannot run our own lives or that we cannot assert ourselves if we need to.  We are not communicating that we do not have better ideas.  What we are showing is that we are willing to consider the views of others, that we can put the good of the community above our own personal desires, or that we recognize the honor that the community places on some of its members due to seniority, record of service, or role in a family or organization.

Submission allows us to smooth off the rough edges that prevent people from fitting together into an integrated community.  Members of healthy families submit to one another so that they can live in peace and harmony.  Husbands submit to the desires of their wives.  Wives submit to the wishes of their husbands.  Children respect and obey their parents.  Parents sacrifice for their children.  Families are webs of mutual submission.  The proper functions of industry and government require submission.  Decisions are made by executives and administrators and are carried out by workers not because they have proved that the decision was the best, but because they submit to the decisions of those of higher position and rank.  Our society works because almost all of us submit to the rule of law.  We might not like all of the laws that we obey, but we obey them because we have decided to.

Thus it is obvious that submission is required as part of a healthy life.  If we inflexibly refuse to submit (or even worse if we reflexively do the opposite of whatever is suggested to us) we will not have lasting intimate relationships, we will not have satisfying careers, and we will not be good citizens.  For those who feel the need to be the decision-maker for every action in their life, their need for control is out of control.  The mentally healthy person has learned how to assert himself, how to lead if called to, and how to submit in the service of those he cares about.

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