Institutions

No one wants chaos.

the joker

Except The Joker.

Batman’s nemesis had a view of life well summarized by Bruce Wayne’s faithful steward, Alfred,

“Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

But without the institutions of government, military, or intelligence agencies, burn is what the world would do! cia seal

In The West, we tend to believe individualism is our philosophy of choice. We question authority and lampoon institutions because we see these as inhibitions. Individualists despise restriction. “The Lone Ranger” syndrome occupies our perceptions more than we know.

institutionsYet individuals make up institutions. We hate chaos for a reason: we could not function in our vocations without order, a primary result of institutions. The word “institution” literally means to set up a statue. The statue then became a memorial, a place of standing, a foundation established for organization. Both groups and individuals enjoy the benefits of organization; a statue to honor order. The word “constituent” has the same focus: a statue, a token of shared commitment. 

Institutions are simply shared commitments. We may take them for granted but depend upon police, fire, EMT, and military services. Institutions organize due process, due diligence, and due dates; the latter essential for both student and teacher! What we think is individual endeavor is most often wrapped within social fabric. We refer to marriage, universities, hospitals, and churches as institutions for good reason: we do not want to see the fabric fray. 

Five benefits of institutions may keep us from pulling on the threads of social fabric which bind us. 

1. Language. It helps to speak the same language in social settings. Further, institutions depend on similar vocabularies for ease of communication. We institutionalize language in many forms which give form to our business and living. 

2. Law. Government restraint benefits all people. Law prevents unbridled license. The famed statement Lex Rex, “the law lawis king,” constrains despots in a free society. We may not like the law when we want to do what we like, but the law also keeps others from doing what they like, to us.

3. Limitation. Every game depends on rules, boundaries, and referees. Structure creates space for freedom. Freedom governed by responsibility is actually best served within the realm of institutions. 

4. Longevity. Stability, like boredom, has its benefits. We can count on something being the same tomorrow as it is today. Institutions allow for the creation of wisdom, wealth, and work year-after-year. 

5. Legacy. We humans ask “What good will my profits do after I die?” We cannot take our contributions with us but we can leave them behind to benefit others. Institutions create the organizational structure for our ideas and ideals to be passed on to the next generation. 

Language, law, limitation, longevity, and legacy may cause us to rethink our view of institutions.

We may enjoy seeing Batman engage Joker’s chaos on the big screen but no one wants to live that way on the small screen of our lives.

Mark is grateful for the institution of instant replay when he watches football on Sunday afternoon. Dr. Mark Eckel is Professor of Leadership, Education & Discipleship at Capital Seminary and Graduate School, Washington, D.C. He teaches, speaks, and writes for various educational institutions.  Written at the behest of Gideon Strauss for the Max De Pree Center for Leadership.

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