The Gift of Obedience

I just finished reading Ella Enchanted with my children. It is a twist on the Cinderella story, and I found it more thought provoking than the classic version.


In this version, a fairy has given baby Ella the gift of obedience, believing this truly to be a blessing.  If she had thought a bit more about the possible implications, she would have realized the curse it actually was.  Ella grew up having no free will.  If anyone issued a command, she had no choice but to obey.  If someone made a request of her, she could decline.  However, a direct order left her no option.  As you can imagine, this would be a dangerous situation.  Anyone could order her to act against her own best interests, and she would have to comply, up to and including ending her own life.  As such, she guarded her secret as best she could.  It was inevitable that someone would notice that she always did as she was told.  Her step-sister noticed and took full advantage of Ella’s compliance.

As we read this book, I couldn’t help but remember a sign I had seen posted in a school building several years ago.  My daughter was taking a dance class that met in an elementary school building.  There were these signs posted around the hallways describing the behavior that was expected of students.  They depicted an open hand, with one rule on each finger.  I wish I could remember all the rules, but there was one in particular that stayed with me.  Probably because I found it horrifying.  It said, “You must obey all adults.”

Do you think that is a harmless thing to teach a child?

I don’t.  Far from it.

I do think most people are mostly nice.  (No one is nice all the time or without flaws.)  I don’t think most people are looking for ways to harm others.  But predators do exist.  A child who has been trained to “obey all adults” would be an easy target.  No thank you.  I don’t want my children to think that all adults have the right to give them orders.

I want my children to respect others and the property of others.  I want them to obey proper authority – reasonable requests from parents, coaches, teachers, their friends’ parents.  I don’t want them to blindly obey any command issued by an adult, no matter what.

We’ve talked about the fact that we should obey the law.  As part of our personal beliefs, we’ve also discussed the idea that if a law that asks us to contradict God’s word, we wouldn’t obey man over God.  For example, if a new law was passed forbidding us to pray, we would continue to pray.  Or in the workplace, if our employer asked us to act in a way that would cheat someone else, we wouldn’t do it.  You get the point.  I want all of us to do our best to do what’s right, but there may be times when what is legal will not equal what is right.  Do I encourage all of us to be law-abiding citizens?  Yes.  But…  I still want all of us to think for ourselves and try to do what’s right.  I’ve even said that if I asked them to do something that they felt was wrong, that they should stand up for what they believe.  (I don’t know how such a situation would play out.  We would have to discuss our disagreement and come up with a way to move forward.)  I want them to understand that they shouldn’t blindly obey anyone, even me.  This hasn’t been an issue, but it’s just so important to me that they know they have the right (and obligation) to think for themselves.

Ella worried that her curse could be the downfall of her country.  The Prince proposed marriage, and she could see the potential danger in being so close to the royal family.  Someone could order her to reveal state secrets or to kill her husband or members of his family.  Because of this danger, she refused to marry him.  Apparently, when the stakes were this high, when disobedience mattered this much, she was able to break the curse.  All the abuse she had suffered because of her inability to disobey was not enough to break the curse, but faced with endangering the person she loved most, she found her own will and said no.  Her reaction to her new-found freedom:

“Decisions were a delight after the curse.  I loved having the power to say yes or no, and refusing anything was a special pleasure.”

What do you think?  Is obedience a gift?  A curse?  Do you think it is reasonable to ask 100% obedience from anyone?







2 thoughts on “The Gift of Obedience

  1. Where being obedient requires discipline, then having discipline is a gift. But the idea of obedience in and of itself bothers me deeply. I want my children to question and test limits (and I can’t believe I really said that!) because that is what gives them the ability to be creative and to envision different scenarios and to learn empathy and I believe that those things are the root of democracy. Imagine if we had simply obeyed King George?

    • Thank you, Tammy! You put it so well. Discipline over obedience. I agree.

      There are many examples in history that suggest obedience is not always right. Unfortunately, there are examples of people committing horrible acts in the name of following orders. We look back and wonder how so many were willing to carry out Hitler’s orders, for example.

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