Day 48: Authority or not

If you know the story of William Tell, you would understand the core of Swiss mentality when it comes to authority and defiance.

Switzerland was formed from an oath sworn by Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden (3 cantons/states), to form an alliance to protect themselves from the authoritarian Habsburgs in 1291. These three cantons, under the Federal Charter, were committed to defend themselves against any attack from this imperial family from Austria.

As would authority react to rebellion, when felt threatened, the oppressive Habsburgs decided to take their frustrations out on the local population. That’s when the capture of Tell occurred. As Tell defied authority, Hermann Gessler – a Habsburg bailiff – summoned Tell. As a political move to put himself on a higher moral ground – Gessler offered to release Tell on the condition that Tell should be able to shoot an apple off his sons head.

On completion of this task successfully, Gessler was not just at awe of Tell’s skill but also noticed a second arrow hidden under his clothing. On questioning, Tell replied that if he would accidentally kill his son on the process of completing this task, he would use the second arrow on Gessler.

Of course Tell was arrested.

It was stormy as Tell was hauled away to prison on a boat. As the weather worsened, Tells cuffs had to be taken off to help stir the boat as he was an excellent helmsman. Soon as the boat went ashore, Tell escaped from his captors, made his way back to Gessler and assassinated him.

I don’t know how moral one should think assassination as, taking life is of course a crime. Yet, the circumstances under which this story stands (for about 700 years), is that of defiance. Tell respected authority, but when the same authority became authoritarian, unjustly putting people in harms way (asking a father to shoot an arrow to knock off an apple on his sons head) and still punishing civilians based on hurt vanity – that’s when Tell defied.

Perhaps why Switzerland is not very tolerant towards authoritarianism. And one of the most insulting things you can tell a Swiss (in my opinion) is that – he or she is acting like a dictator.

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