Power – a Double Edged Sword

April 8, 2010 at 1:31 am 1 comment

by Lauren Kennedy   http://www.InsitetoExcellence.com

Power.  It is a quality that we covet. We admire and respect those individuals that possess power. We seek their advice and heed their direction. And we strive to acquire power for ourselves and eagerly anticipate an opportunity to use it.

We dread the thought of being powerless. And we typically feel pity or distain for those whom we view as powerless.  But power is a double edge sword. And it is one that we seldom use wisely.

So want exactly does it mean to have power?

Like so many words in our language, the dictionary has many definitions for power. But we are concerned with the ones that relate to “having power”. The following definitions would be applicable for our purposes.

  1. Control and influence over other people and their actions
  2. The ability to influence people’s judgment or emotions
  3. Political control of a country, exercised by its government or leader
  4. The authority to act or to do something
  5. A country that has political influence over other countries due to its military or economic resources
  6. A politically, financially or socially powerful person

The primary purpose of power, by its very definition, is to control and to influence what others do, say,  think or feel. It is the antithesis of freedom.

We use power to assure that we get the outcome that we desire. We use it as a intellectual club to manipulate,  intimidate, convince, and compel. We use it as a badge of authority to misdirect, justify, authorize, and control.  Power is a weapon in our hand, albeit one that is considered more evolved than brute force.

Sometimes we use power as a crutch. Power can  gain the respect and admiration of others. It can give us a false sense  of self confidence and importance. But the semblance of respect and admiration afforded to those in power is more akin to fear or envy of the power, not the person. And self confidence or importance that depends on power for it existence is an illusion.

Then there are those people to whom power represents a defensive strategy. They simply want to avoid being misused and controlled by others. They are weary of being labeled as weak, unimportant, or incapable. They no longer can tolerate  being invisible or disposable.

Understandable. Some would even applaud their newly found backbone. However, now they, too,  have joined the arms race. They too, have chosen force over creativity. They too, have decided that winning, forcing our desired outcome, is more important than the choices we make on our journey through life.

The arms race for power is just as dangerous as any other arms race. There is no finish line, except mutual self destruction, whether physical or spiritual.

Spiritual growth and evolution result from our choices – choices based in integrity and honesty. The frequency with which we achieve our goal, our desired outcome, or our level of success has little significance in determining our level of spiritual development  Many great leaders, teachers and prophets came to untimely ends and suffered indignities at the hands of people that were less spiritually aware but who had amassed more power.

These individuals, who valued principles above power, benefited humanity far more than the most powerful rulers, businessmen, or heroes. Their greatness arose from their choices, their honest motives, humanitarian intentions, their wisdom,  their true love and their non judgmental compassion for all life. They had no need for pledges of loyalty, honor or obedience. Nor did they choose to offer bribes or favoritism to ensure a following. Their sense of empowerment gave them the courage and honesty to make choices that were congruent with their beliefs. They lived, spoke and acted with integrity.

Personal Empowerment is the antidote to power.

We must change our priorities from power and control, to Empowerment within.  It fulfills our needs, supplies us with courage and confidence, never compromises another, and is not prone to misuse.

One of the justifications for the use of power is made by people who assert that their goals are positive. Or they claim that by acquiring power, they can make positive changes. And one of the favorite validations for the use of power is the declaration that the ends justify the means.

Let’s look at a few examples of the use of power to achieve righteous goals.

Most people in the Middle Ages considered the goals of the Crusaders admirable. They were going to save Souls, crush the non-Christian Islamic empire, and reclaim the Holy Land. That admirable goal resulted in tremendous carnage, plunder, the theft of religious items and the accumulation of an abundance of power and wealth for the Crusaders, if not the rest of the Christian populace.

In the end, the Crusaders were forcibly disbanded by the Royalty. The Royalty were aware of the great wealth the Crusader’s had amassed from stolen treasures and of their increasing power. The Rulers feared that their power over their subjects was being compromised. And they intended to bring the force of their still considerable might down on the Crusaders in order to maintain the status quo.

More recently, Law enforcement officers have also cut corners or manipulated the rules in order to convict a person that they believed was guilty. Many citizens often support their efforts, hoping to relieve their fears, silence their own sense of powerlessness, to mete out “justice” in the form of punishment, in order to quiet their own sense of powerlessness.

However,  the use of power as a means to an end, turned into a miscarriage of justice, in many cases. They used unethical tactics with impunity by wielding their power, authority and influence.  Such tactics often included psychologically coerced  false confessions, omission of information that may exonerate the accused, deliberate misrepresentation of evidence, and claiming something as fact that was not supported by evidence.

Thanks to DNA and advocates not intimidated by power, many people with life sentences or an appointment with death, were proven innocent.

These are just a few of countless examples of the negative results when power is exerted to insure a perceived noble result. Similar occurrences unfold every day. The concept that the ends justify the means, has resulted in many destructive actions.

So when is someone considered powerful?

Generally, we believe that a person is powerful when we think others consider that person to be powerful. They typically have a loyal group of influential people who support them and their goals, policies and agenda. They have carefully molded a powerful, personal image reinforced by a public relations expert to ensure the population view them as powerful and all knowing. Their public image is crafted to portray a person that is entitled to  admiration, respect, with unquestioned authority to carry out any agenda. And they are generally in control of substantial financial resources.

Our society admires and respects power, success, wealth and winning. That in itself, is not a problem. The problem arises when we value power over integrity. The problem grows when our respect and admiration is based on a persons attainment of power, control and success, instead of the quality of his choices, honesty, dedication, fairness, or understanding.

We admire a person that can win, that can compel the result that they desire. But we seldom bother or care to look into the methods he uses to grab that win.  We condone success at any cost.  If those in power propose something that sounds suspicious, self serving, or vague,  they can easily convince us that we lack the inside information to understand the intricate details of the issue or we lack the experience to interpret the multi faceted aspects and delicate factors of the situation. Since we have already put them on a pedestal, we respectfully concur.

We accept rationalizations from powerful organizations. We let corporations and governments avoid responsibility for their misuse of power. They smugly state that they have followed the letter of the law, when they know full well that they have abused the spirit of it. And we swallow that rationalization hook, line and sinker.

How does a person become powerful?  How do they acquire their authority, and their obedient following?

There is only one way for a person to acquire immense power. We give it to them. Yes, we give them power, our power. More and more we are turning the decisions for our country, for regulating our lives and for the planet,  over to corporations and agencies with long acronyms and vague descriptions.

This is not a reference to the current debate about big government. This is certainly not intended as a denouncement of improving our infrastructure or medical insurance.

This refers to the power brokers behind the scenes, who are twisting arms, providing the public with half truths or even false information. This is an indictment of the ruthless tactics, under handed deals and well placed bribes, that are considered common and acceptable, for the purpose of  achieving their hidden agenda, regardless of the cost to the majority of citizens, humanity and life in general.

Is Power really dangerous? Here are just a few examples.

Rockefeller behaved abominably during the time that the unions were beginning to organize. At one point, he persuaded the governor to rally the state police to stamp out the trouble makers. The workers lived in tent communities. The male workers had congregated in the woods far beyond the tent community. The police opened fire on the tent community, occupied only with unarmed women and children. The women and children could be seen scrambling to find some cover and could be heard screaming. But the gunfire continued. Needless to say, there were many fatalities.

Yet we name huge centers in his honor. And he is only one example of many.

We allow powerful corporations and their equally powerful management,  to be irresponsible and destructive. We look on while they continue to release poisonous gases into the atmosphere. We allow them to dump chemical waste into the waterways. And we show little concern while they bury cancerous waste products in substandard containers to leech their deadly contents into the soil and the water table.

We cease our feeble objection in the face of their propaganda, which typically sounds  something like this:  The expense of developing new energy sources, proper disposal and decontamination systems would result in soaring consumer prices plus elevated taxes. In addition,  in order to fulfill their commitment to their board members and share holders,  they would have to relocate to a country with more lax restrictions and  thousands of jobs would be sacrificed, along with substantial tax revenue for the area. This is definitely a power play, and one that, although hugely flawed, has been very effective.

We allow Wall Street to play fast and loose with the regulations and laws that apply to their business.   After the house of cards came tumbling down, instead of fines or penalties, the powerful were still able to award themselves juicy bonuses and the losses were passes on to the citizens. When restrictions and accountability requirements are mentioned, the powerful businessmen cried that it was socialism. Ridiculous. Citizen must follow the laws of the land, why should we exempt business entities from the same adherence to laws of fair trade and upright business practices?

Then we treat the employee who has the courage to point the finger at the dishonest practices of his powerful employer with more distain than the executives who were breaking the law. The employee is usually banned from his chosen field for the rest of his life and is viewed as a disloyal, dissatisfied, individual, rather than the courageous person of integrity that he or she is. In contrast,  the powerful offenders may spend a few years in federal prison, and upon release, they are awarded with a more lucrative and powerful position in their field than they had prior to being convicted.

Once again, our love affair with power is working its dark magic.

Yes, we give our power away. We give our power of discernment to others. We give it to people with hidden agendas, people who have a vested interested in maintaining the status quo, people who want to be recognized and important. And once we have given them our power, we give them our loyalty and respect because they are powerful.

But they only have that power because we gave it to them.

Hitler was powerful. But only after thousands of people said yes to the promise of a better life if they would support or ignore his condemnation  of the Jews. Was the Klan powerful? Only because a large population turned the other way at beatings and murder, then further supported them by refusing to convict the guilty parties.

Our notion that one person can gain  power and control over millions of unwilling citizens is ludicrous. We hand over our power. Sometimes, little by little, as with our eroding personal freedoms, and sometimes in unison by some unseen mutual consent, as with Hitler and the original Klan.

Certainly, after thousands of people pledge their support to a person or group, the few individuals who refuse to follow the majority are facing an uphill and at times a dangerous battle. But that result is due to the choice of the populace who continues to support the powerbase. Without that support, those in power would lose that power and the people would have nothing to fear. Except perhaps, their own fear of responsibility.

We try to ignore the danger of that double edge sword, but we still seem to get cut.

Those who desire power in order to control results and outcome, are not the type of leaders that will be responsive to the needs of the people, nor will they seek out new, creative, cooperative and beneficial approaches.

Are these really the types of people to whom we want to give our power.

Of course, there must be leaders to manage the complexities of our society and our businesses.  And those leaders have a tremendous responsibility and will require a good deal of support and cooperation. But aspiring to be a public servant in order to benefit the country or society is quite different than striving for a position to achieve power and to be powerful.

Becoming an astute business person in order to create a productive company that offers quality products and services to the public is a worthy pursuit. It is when profit and prestige at any price are the objectives, that power takes precedence.

When we honor someone by choosing them for a leadership position, we must expect accountability, transparency, honesty, communication and cooperation. People in  positions of leadership, need not be idealized or followed unquestioningly. Instead, we need to remember that we have honored them with those positions and they have an obligation to live up to that honor with integrity.

Martin Luther King was empowered. But he refused to wield power.  Never the less, he attracted large numbers of people with whom his belief of peace and equality resonated. His insight and dedication motivated others to sacrifice their own comfort for the cause of freedom.

Christ never sought to acquire power. He was critical of those who had, and misused their power. Yet, he attracted millions with his vision of peace, love, tolerance, forgiveness, and his wisdom and insight. His profound sense of empowerment strengthen his courage and resolve to express and live his truth, in the face of tremendous challenge and criticism.

Mother Teresa managed to get financial support for her goal of feeding, clothing and comforting thousands of people. She did it through her own sense of empowerment, dedication and compassion.

These people had no need to gain power, because they were empowered. They remained focused on their own principles, on their own integrity and their desire to improve the human condition. Instead of power, they employed creativity, insight, wisdom and appealed to the innate goodness of people rather than manipulate them by use of their fears and ego. They had no need to have power over others, because others were drawn to their message.  These genuine individuals attracted followers  by the honesty of their words, the depth of their compassion for humanity, the strength of their personal empowerment that they exuded. and the message  of truth, hope and integrity that they expressed and lived.  Power, control, manipulation, bribes, and agendas conflicted with their values, their message and their spirit.

In fact, blind obedience  and obedience based in fear are meaningless. Choice counts only if it is made freely and with awareness.

If we change our attitude toward the so called positions of power and the people that have them, then power, itself, would become obsolete. Those in leadership positions would be considered public servants, chosen for their character, honesty, ability, insight and integrity, as opposed to someone with power,  whom we must  follow, revere and submit.

There would be no power to grab nor to give away. We would no longer tolerate employers who bully, abuse and mistreat their employees. Instead, we would cooperate and support each other in our efforts to be treated with fairness and respect. With our newly developed sense of empowerment we would stand together, rather than lining up to be subjugated in order to grab the crumbs that are tossed our way.

Power is powerfully addictive.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Experiments have been conducted with normal participant, who were given power over other participants in the experiment. Some were given the role of guards and the other, the role of prisoners. The authors of the experiment had to stop it prematurely, because those playing the role of guards,  were quickly becoming abusive, physically and emotionally. These were normal people, corrupted in less than two weeks by power. And it wasn’t even absolute power.

We are doing a disservice to the people to whom we give our power. We are setting them up.  Few people can successfully compete with the eroding effects of power.

We can give our power away, hand over responsibility for our choices, allow someone else to bend principles so we can get what we want, without guilt. But no matter how much we may deny it, we are still responsible for our choices, our actions, our apathy, our judgments, and our power. No one is powerful until we hand over our power to them. But even in their hands, it is still our power and we are responsible for how it is used.  It is important to know the intentions of those to whom we give it.

But we must first have the courage to reject the worship of the double edge sword of power. Instead we must learn to embrace honest, principled leadership. Moreover, we must embrace and develop empowerment and courage within ourselves.

We can all become empowered.

That is the antidote to feeling powerless, helpless, to being a victim and to living in constant fear.  People who are empowered do not require, nor desire power over others. Empowerment is a quality within, rather than an external force. No one can take empowerment from us. But retaining power is a never ending battle.

When we give away our power, we are avoiding personal responsibility. We are hiding behind orders, blind loyalty, and ignorance. Each of us is responsible for our own decisions. We can not claim innocence while ignoring injustice, and choosing personal security over truth.

Swords, regardless of the original intention, kill. And so does power. It kills our sense of personal responsibility, it kills our courage, it kills our freedom.

Unless we change our priorities, the power wars will continue, and the losers and non participants will remain casualties.

We must replace our need for power and control, with the choice to become self empowered, the courage to be personally accountable, and the insight to value integrity, unity and cooperation.

Personal Empowerment is the antidote to powerlessness and the foundation for courage and freedom

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Entry filed under: Mind Over Matter, Piority, Motive and Intention, Self Esteem. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

Striving for Greatness – a fool’s errand What Are You Really Attracting

1 Comment Add your own

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Our life is an evolving creation, shaped by our choices, colored by our desires, and lightened or darkened by our intentions.
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