Sunday, February 1, 2009

Deference

There are categories of behavior considered feminine and masculine. The degree to which they actually relate to biological sex aside, we seem to value the masculine pattern more than the feminine.

A key example is a range of behaviors that might be called helping, serving, deference, following or assisting. Kids are told over and over that they need to develop good leaderships skills, but it is a simple statistical fact that most of us will follow more than we lead.

Nor is this a bad thing. When I get on a Boeing I don't demand the right to fly the plane. I lack the skills and qualifications and would get everyone on board killed. Knowing when to defer to others is at least as import, as admirable, and as intelligent as knowing when and how to lead them.

In ancient Roman times the Goddess Venus was referred to as Venus Obsequens. We seem to have lost the idea that an entity even as powerful as a good my deign to fulfil the wishes of others out of gracious goodwill and a desire to favor the worthy.

Meanwhile in modern animal behavior scientists are belatedly determined that pecking orders and rutting fights are only half of the explanation of animal society. Equally crucial is how groups give allegiance and who females choose to mate with. In normal society, leadership is not seized and love is not won, both are typically given as a free choice, to those who are worthy.

With the old and new wings of feminism continue their cat fights about who get to be on top, neither seems to want to proceed from liberating the female, to liberating the feminine. If ever there was a time where we needed to value the proper and informed gift of deference, it must be now.

As Karen Overall writes, in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior: "Deference is not analogous to submission or subordination. Deference is about relative status that is freely given, not imposed ... The animals to which most others defer is the animals that behaves most appropriately given the context, not the animals that must always be at the door first, or must eat first. In fact a need to control regardless of context can be neither adaptive, nor normal."

Leading, following, and horizontal teamwork are all equally admirable when they best use the abilities of the individual and further the goals of society. Which probably why Venus not only prominently worshipped by wives, but also politicians who placed her temple on the original "Capitoline" hill an--in the case of Julius Caesar--proudly claimed descent directly from the "Obsequious" Goddess.

7 comments:

L. Venkata Subramaniam said...

You are very right, sometimes the stereotypes are so ingrained in our society that we may want to inculcate a specific trait but will unknowingly be pushing a very different trait. The leadership example is very pertinent. At home, in office, in school, we always promote deference and actually reward it.

corrin said...

But don't we also teach our children to follow directions, listen to elders, and be quite when others are speaking? I think that is the following aspect. I'd argue that we teach those qualities more than leadership.

cady said...

i agree that we teach following more than leadership. being a leader is great, but knowing when to follow is even better.

Christina thecoffeelady said...

If everyone wants and strives to be a leader... nothing gets accomplished. Like Cady said "knowing when to follow is even better". A leader can not lead without followers.

daria369 said...

I think everyone has to experience both roles in life, the one of a leader as well as follower - because there would be no good leaders without good followers and even the leaders follow something, even if only an idea...

Sadie said...

Great post. We do teach to be a leader, but tend to be followers most of the time. I think in our society we should teach our children how to be both. When I was growing up, my mom did just that. These days I see children who have no manners, have no respect - they have no idea how to follow directions and respect others.

On a side note, I love the picture of the tigers! They're my favorite animal. :)

BarbaraRae said...

The key to being both a leader and a follower, is developing good listening skills. Then you learn to be both. Thanks for the great post!