Submission is one of those words that can send a chill down your spine. It suggests weakness, being at the whim of a tyrant and the fear that your will, character, and personality is less dominant than someone else’s. Yet we all submit at one time or another. Take the current situation; we are all collectively submitting to the wills of our governments, the (so-called) authority of experts; even our moral compass compels us to submit in support of the health and safety of others to the extent of revoking our human rights for the greater good. Others, such as North Korean Leader Kim Jung-on, instil collective submission through a reign of terror and fear. All dictators do as their Rule means instilling their will over millions. If Covid-19 were a leader, it would be up there with Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Le Duan or Pol Pot; we are all submitting to its power, for its power appears relentless and unassailable.
But are we right to give in? To submit? Do we have a choice?
We all submit, often under the guise of another name – surrender, compromise, mediation – which are all forms of submission. But the word itself, ‘submission’, generates feelings of helplessness, weakness even failure. We are all different, and our levels of strength have different melting points. Where we may use torture and fear to force the submission of a circus animal to perform for our pleasure, there are those individuals who are also adept at using their powers, their will, forcing others to submit. Whether it’s through pain, fear, abuse or a combination of all three, they manage to make others submit to their will; male or female, there is no distinction. Likewise, emotional bullies can force others to submit to their will through constant torment. If we are constantly beaten – morally or physically, we cave in eventually.
Institutionalism is another form of submission. Kept in certain conditions for long enough, both animals and people submit. It may be freedom within a cage, but it’s a type of living, and our soul can bear unimaginable things and still want to live, even if it is only half a life. Imagine caged animals, locked up for most of their lives, even if freed, they run back to what they know, even if it is to the very devil himself.
For centuries society forced women to be submissive. A comedy clip by Harry Enfield entitled ‘Women Know Your Limits’ is hilarious, but it shows a darker side of women’s submission to man’s ‘superior’ intellect. Women could not think for themselves; they became their husband’s property and had few if any rights or recourse from some of the horrors they endured. Echoes of the past still linger today as women and indeed men submit to the illusion of what makes them perfect in terms of shape, looks and beauty.
Of course, some people enjoy being a victim, the weaker, the submissive one. It gives them power, a perverse kind, but power all the same. And lastly, some use submission as a tool to survive. Turning it on its head submission or apparent submission becomes a shield, a shield they can use to deflect what the rest of the world perceives a person to be especially when there are too many battles to fight or even attempt to win. The onslaught can be endless, but instead of giving in or submitting under the sheer weight of what is going on, individuals can exist in a shadowland and create a life of their own, even if it is in secret.
On the flip side, how often do we fight love instead of submitting to its incredible journey? We fight it because we think it’s the wrong person, they don’t look how we’d imagined they’d look; we’re scared to take a leap of faith because we are afraid, we’ll be ridiculed. We are such a squirming mass of emotions that the mere thought of submitting to love or any other emotion is terrifying. But it shouldn’t be.
So far, we have looked at submission in a slightly negative light. Let’s consider now a more positive counter position to submission, which is obedience. Obedience in particular situations or conditions, an action taken not because we are afraid, nor because we want to conform or because we are being harassed and bullied but because we believe that it is the right thing to do is positive obedience. Equally, therefore, we should not submit or take action when the prevailing conditions go against everything, we believe to be right.
The difference between submission and obedience is willingness, in that if our actions are done willingly and in accordance with what we believe to be right, this is obedience. If not, then we have submitted rather than obeyed.
This argument can then give rise to a further dimension, that of conformity. Conformity can be described as the act of changing a particular belief or behaviour to fit in with one’s social environment. It is important, therefore, not to compromise what we believe to be right simply to conform, for, although it is an easy option, it then becomes submission rather than obedience.
Along with conformity, we also have to be aware of social influence which refers to the ways in which external factors trigger change in an individual. A situation can prevail which we can, if we are not careful, condition ourselves to exhibit a belief that such a situation is acceptable, even though we may know deep down that it is not. That acceptance is submission rather than obedience.
Ultimately on our journey through life, there are many pressures, snares and traps that will be encountered, and it is all too easy for the sake of avoiding confrontation to ‘go along with the crowd’. However, for our well-being, it is essential that rather than submit to popular opinion we obey those things we know to be right. This option is not easy and requires a great deal of inner strength.
Finally, we must say something about the highest kind of obedience—that to one’s conscience. From our earliest days, we should teach ourselves to listen to the still soft voice of conscience that is within us. To do this, one must be free from passion and self-love; then conscience is the unerring guide.
In following our conscience, it may often be necessary to disobey the authority in whomsoever it might be vested. That is the way to greatness, to follow what conscience dictates to be done or warns us not to do.
No power has the strength to coerce our conscience, and to no authority must we sacrifice our conscience for any consideration.
Photo: Simon English – Upsplash