Book Excerpt – What is Intelligent Disobedience?
What exactly is Intelligent Disobedience? I had the same question when I first heard the term. These are two words that don’t usually fit together.
We know what obedience is: following orders or rules or established ways of doing things. Obeying usually keeps life running smoothly. Disobedience is a contrary response to these common obligations of life. Disobeying often results in unpleasant consequences. Those issuing the orders or seeing the rules are inclined to enforce them, and they usually have the power to do so. Therefore, it’s reasonable to ask, under what circumstances can disobedience be considered intelligent?
I suspect you would agree that those with the authority to issue orders or to establish rules are not infallible. You’ve experienced that reality, perhaps more often than you’d like. In some circumstances, the information on which authorities are basing a specific order or rule may be incomplete, old, or plain wrong. Their intentions may be excellent, but their assessment of the situation and their judgment may be faulty. Or the order may be ethically problematic. In these circumstances, implementing that order or rule would probably lead to an undesirable outcome, perhaps even a dangerous one. It would be better to question the order rather than obey it. That would be Intelligent Disobedience.
The purpose of my book Intelligent Disobedience is to help individuals at all stages of human development, and in all types of work, achieve the awareness and skills to avoid the “just following orders” trap. Regardless of the pressure we feel to obey those in authority, we are accountable for our actions. We need to be able to take a stand and do the right thing when what we are told to do is wrong. If we do this well, even those issuing the wrong orders will benefit from our having made the right choice.