Men live together in society in harmony with each other. There are so many different types of men that want to live in peace. This means, each must give up something for the sake of others and for the sake of the common good.
One of the things that we must give up is our desires to do, as we like, i.e. according to sweet will. We must obey somebody. That is the lesson of civilization. Refuse to obey is the way to anarchy and barbarism, which follows jungle laws. In a rare mood of revolt, the poet Nazrul exclaims, "I am a Beduin (Nomad), I am Chengis, and I do not salute anybody except my own self". But such an attitude of non-conformism will lead men nowhere.
In the Society of Nature, man gradually realised the importance of obedience. Hence they made one among them king whom all would obey unquestioningly. For obedience is the test of worship. Obedience is heaven's supreme law. The First man (Adam) disobeyed God and lost heaven.
Obedience is a spiritual discipline. It is training for the mind. It builds up character. It teaches self-restraint. It is the parent of harmony and peace. Therefore, it has been said that he who does not know how to obey does not know how to command. Oftentimes the question is raised - whom should we obey? Our first duty, of course, is to obey our parents. In their case, obedience is worship.
Next, we should obey the rules of any organization that we join. When on the playground -let us obey our captain. Are we members of a club? Let us abide by the rules of the club. Have we joined a school? Let us conform to the discipline of the school and obey the teachers who are there for our good. In a State, we are compelled to obey the laws for fear of punishment. But of far greater value to our spiritual life is this voluntary obedience to men and institutions, out of love, reverence or a sense of duty. There our obedience should be implicit and spontaneous and not perforce. The militants and outlaws like Virappons of Karnataka may hold sway for a while by giving allegiance to none. But they are destined to disappear soon, like bubbles of the sea.
Many are virtues of obedience. The man who obeys dutifully is worthy of being someday a commander. Therefore, it should be a universal rule to recruit the captain of the morrow from the soldiers of today. The question here pertinently arises-should we then obey the lawful authority always without a protest? The answer is-But your protest should be done methodically, firmly and politely.
Obedience often becomes extremely unpleasant because we may have to obey against our will. The modern philosopher regards human beings as instruments of the social will; man has to subordinate his individual self-will to the discipline of a social order. So we have to learn to subordinate our wills to the superior in command.
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 me not to do;
No power has the strength to coerce our conscience, and to no authority must we sacrifice our conscience for any consideration.
Refusal to submit to foreign domination, refusal to conform to customs, revolt against the domination of tyrants—are steps in the right direction. Otherwise, obedience will degenerate into slavery and servility.