By Mark Eckel

No one wants chaos.

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 the state, the market, or the arts world, burn is what the world would do!

In America, we tend to identify individualism as our social 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 of the world.

Yet 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” at its root is about setting something up, causing it to stand: creating a place of standing, a foundation established for organization.  Both groups and individuals enjoy the benefits of organization, the foundation of order.

Torn fabric. (Photo courtesy of Charbel Akhras.)

Torn fabric. (Photo courtesy of Charbel Akhras.)

Institutions involve shared commitments.  We may take the mechanisms of political life for granted, but we 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 a 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.

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.

Law.  Government restraint benefits all people.  Law prevents unbridled license.  The famed statement Lex Rex, “the law is 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.

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

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

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 have to regularly depend on vigilante superheroes 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 and speaks for various educational institutions, as well as writes essays once a week at

Fieldnotes Magazine is a publication of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. We would love to hear from you about people, businesses, or other organizations we can interview or feature. Please email the editor at Fieldnotes Magazine.


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