Some thoughts on Authority and Credibility

Book and Coffee

Does authority give someone credibility? I think the grand majority of people agree that it does.

Does it give someone default credibility regardless of the validity of their specific statements? I strongly assume that to be the case as well.

People tend to accept ideas and arguments more readily if they come from an authority figure, regardless if these ideas and arguments are themselves sound and valid, or complete hogwash. Precedents and past achievements give that person a buffer zone, and his opinions are attributed a greater weight than those of someone (yet) unknown.

But does the lack of authority automatically infirm someone’s credibility? Can it constitute an argument against the validity of that person’s opinions?

Don’t we often hear…

“Ah, don’t listen to her, she’s not published yet, she’s probably not even a “real” writer.”

“Who, him? Pshaw, he’s self-pubbed. Like he knows a thing about the publishing industry.”

“I’m not taking advice from someone who’s only written non-fiction. What do they know about true ART?”

And even something akin to…

“Mrs. Writing Coach said fantasy is best written in third person, past tense. I suppose my experimental manuscripts are all trash.”

“Oh, Mr. Stephen Rowling said novels with only two humongous chapters will revolutionize literature? What are we waiting for?!”

How often are people discredited simply because this is their FIRST moment in public? How often are they received with skepticism and even blatant disrespect simply because they don’t have a PRECEDENT of success? Regardless of the quality of their work, the validity of their advice, or the clarity of their perspective.

And how often is the nonsensical advice, regurgitated platitude or even the crass falsehood of someone taken as letter of law, simply because they have authority in one field or another?

The world is brim full—practically boiling over with know-it-alls, smartasses, and self-proclaimed experts (or gurus, ninjas, Jedi, and whatnot). It’s sometimes very hard to discern who’s making a good point, and who’s just foaming at the mouth. Previously established authority is certainly helpful in segregating sources of information. But we shouldn’t let ourselves be blinded by [perceived] authority—or the lack thereof—when we are confronted with new ideas.

We should ALWAYS have an open mind. That’s one of the most important characteristics a writer should have!

And I don’t just mean with regards to writing advice from unlikely sources. I mean all kinds or information, all sorts of conflicting opinions and sharp angles on things that have sunken into the comfortable background of our collective awareness. If only in the service of our own growth as intellectual beings… In the service of our research for the next great story, or in the service of our ability to remain flexible.ย 

We should dare to go on adventures without a hand-drawn map of some public figure with a Pedigree. We’d be surprised how many others are exploring the wilderness beside us, and whose words actually make a damn lotta sense.

 

11 Replies to “Some thoughts on Authority and Credibility”

  1. Great post!

    The thing is, these statements and search for (or denial of) authority are deeply connected to who we are, our self-worth and goals, and dreams, and other stuff that makes us us. We have to accept ourselves as we are first, then move forward.

    I also think this questioning stage all ambitious people should, even must go through. Some will emerge victorious and prosperous, knowing that taking AND giving advice requires more than having an opinion and even an expertise in certain field, and understand that such advice should be shared for free. If you can’t make money otherwise, you are not quite there yet yourself.

    Writers, please spare me on the ‘How to…’ books. Humans have been making tools for ages; if you can build a wheel, that doesn’t automatically make you are pro racer. I want to see how you use that tool yourself first. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Like

    1. Indeed, giving good advice requires rather that you truly understand what you’re talking about and can use that advice in a practical way yourself, than just boasting with your expertise but uttering only platitudes and useless junk that you never tired out yourself.

      Thanks for the comment!

      Like

  2. Thought provoking article. I try to read advice both with an open mind and a grain of salt. I believe that’s our intellectual responsibility. Even the experts with backed-up authority are usually speaking from a perspective of their success and what has worked for them. The advice may be valid, but we need to adjust it to our personalities/circumstances/goals. I also think sometimes we confuse authority and expertise with popularity– and they may not always be the same. Thanks for feeding some thoughts this morning.

    Like

    1. “I also think sometimes we confuse authority and expertise with popularity.”

      YES! Excellent point, Julie!

      It’s comfortable to accept that someone’s presence in the media (any kind of media) increases with his expertise and credibility and vice-versa, and it’s often misleading.

      Like

  3. I agree with you one hundred percent. Just because someone is self-published or something along those lines doesn’t mean they’re ignorant or without knowledge or information that’s worthwhile.

    Like

  4. Great points throughout!

    The whole “authority” thing has long been something I’ve thought about, and it increased tenfold when I started learning about writing and the publishing industry. We have this strange set of circumstances where the creative side of the industry (the writing part) can be extremely subjective when it comes to assigning worth and value. But the actual publishing side of the industry is not so subjective, even as the waters grow unconventionally murky every year. That creates this clash of mentalities that can often result in new authors latching to the first example of success they see that is most attractive to them, whether it’s the “overnight” trade published bestseller or the self-made, self-published superstar.

    I think trusting anyone’s words and opinions “just because” can be dangerous, regardless what the root of that “just because” is. Writers new and old alike should arm themselves by doing research on the publishing industry (for instance) and how things ACTUALLY work instead of just trusting the words of the first person who seems like they know what they’re talking about. Knowledge is power, and research is bullshit kevlar.

    Like

    1. Bullshit kevlar. Sweet. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      This sometimes annoys me, when I see unpublished writers (like myself, and still, much unlike myself) cling to the aura of someone who’s further down the road from them, as if they know The Secret. And they’re not necessarily aware of it either, they just admire… It’s healthy to have role models and to try and do what you know has worked for others before. But that’s very different from swallowing anything someone says.

      Like

  5. I have found that there is still the mindset in the general public that traditionally published authors are valid and self published authors dismissed. Even in my own writing group, the comment was made that self published authors can never make a living.
    However, if you research what is happening in the publishing business you find that many authors stymied by “big” publishing are finding a voice and making a very good livihood with the books.
    Gradually, this attitude is changing as the industry changes

    Like

    1. Yup, exactly. Things are always changing, and thanks to technology and its exponential development, they will change faster and faster. Sticking to “tradition” may soothe one or another melancholic’s heart, but it’s also a recipe for stagnation and narrowmindedness. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Thanks for your comment, Sheron! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Like

Comments are closed.