On Power by Steve Kanney

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Let’s look at power for a moment. Power in the animal world may come mainly from physical strength. But as humans, as soon as we emphasized intelligence, physical power became obsolete. In the context of human existance, we will look at two types of power – authentic and temporal. Consider for example Stalin and Mohatma Gandhi.Which of these two individuals is respected and admired to this day? Both developed a mass of followers. Stalin accumulated power first through ideals and used the power for personal gain, which was destructive to the people he lead. He retained the power through violence and intimidation. But in the context of history how long did his power last? How many people were lead by his example and continued the direction he set even today? History tells us that he was broadly disliked internationally, but even more so his reputation was badly tarnished among his own people.

Gandhi, on the other hand, accumulated followers by peacefully bringing the attention of the world to great injustices and worked to benefit his followers. In reality, by short circuiting the injustices being done, he also stopped the disturbances created in the minds of the people inflicting harm to the Indian people. Everyone respected Gandhi, listened to his advice and supported him. In this way the energy of many people were channeled through him and he was able to overhaul the government of a major world power without any army. History here treats him as someone beloved by his own people and revered for the enormous task he undertook successfully. He is even respected in Britain. This power was more authentic and long lasting.

In our society many who have acquired power have done so through politics or success in business. Our first reaction may be automatic admiration for names such as Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or Ronald Reagan. But these leaders are subject to the same criteria as Stalin and Gandhi in evaluating the exercise of their power.  In fact, leaders must be careful particularly about how they exercise their power, as their position allows them to affect far more people than those with little power. If they allow destructive activities, the results will not harm one or two people, but many more. Consider the head of Exxon who put off addressing global warming resulting from fuel consumption. They wanted to increase profits, but the resultant destruction to the environment now threatens far more damage than their profits can cure. Now they and their families must live in this world at greater physical risk, so they did not escape the consequences of their actions. To the extent you make destructive decisions as a powerful person, your consequences will be larger. For this reason, a sincere aspiration to develop authentic power versus temporal power is critical for those who attain leadership positions.

To insure proper use of their power by leaders in our political system, the structure attempts a healthy approach to diffuse absolute power in this country, preventing the Stalins of the world from gaining control. Distributing authority among 3 branches of government, frequent elections and freedom of the press all act to bring transparency and responsibility on the part of politicians towards those they serve. It is important not only for politicians to keep a close eye on their motivations to insure they sincerely serve the people properly, but also members of the press. Any dilution in the sincerity on the part of these groups will certainly lead to problems of the ilk described above. The protections we have against abuse of power in this country are good, but if not implemented with sincerity in our society, we may need something more.

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On Power
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  • Gregory

    Power seekers fall into two basic categories:
    1. Power-hungry people, who seek power to dominate, to reach what they consider the top, to outrun other powerful people and never, or as little as possible, to abide by somebody else’s will. They do not care much about the result, as long as they maintain their power and personal security. They do not have an ideology, they have plans and they tailor ideologies to fit their plans, then they enforce their custom-made ideology onto masses.
    2. People, who want to improve the concurrent plight, or inadequacy, in their opinion, of their tribe, neighborhood, nation or the whole world. And they want the results promptly. To achieve their goals they have to promote their views through politics, that is through acquiring enough (a very unlikely milestone!) power to meet the goal. They have an ideology which they religiously revere, and which they wholeheartedly proselytize, and then, once they gain sufficient power, impose it upon the populace very much like the first category.

    The only exception seem to be dynasties of monarchs who really ruled and forged their empires for further generations of their heirs. It barely exists any more, though.

    In many historical cases these two categories mix, merge, or intertwine. Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Robespierre, Stalin, Hitler, banana republic dictators most if not all modern politicians belong to either or both of the above two categories. The common denominator is they seek power to exercise it now for whatever ends they hold important.

    Gandhi, as in the example in this blog, never sought power, nor did he seriously strategize how to use it once he realized that he had eventually acquired a lot of it. If he had, he would not have become the Gandhi the world knows. Actually, a similar situation happened to Jesus Christ, one of the most powerful figures in human history.

    So, as everything in the dialectic human world, power is a necessary tool to secure survival and maintain development of any society, and at the same time power is a tool for social control, fraught with corruption, stagnation and environmental deterioration.

    Investigating it from the Aikido angle, I would revoke the principles of “Being Aware” and “One Point”, which we are to know how to focus on without over-focusing. Too much focus is counterproductive in the final run, isn’t it?

    Resume: One should be aware of different manifestations of power, be powerful enough mentally and physically to cope with a power-hungry opponent by turning his power and aggression against him, yet not to seek power either of immediate or historical nature.

    • admin

      Let’s see…I think the first group does have an ideology and you described it well: create a false ideology to gain power for selfish gain, which will result in personal happiness. Ask them in their last days if it worked and to a man they would all say no. The second group is more altruistic on the surface, but rigid in their ideas. They may actually help a little, but their rigidity would counteract any benefit.

      Gandhi did not wish for power, and I think you are right that if he sought it, he would have broken with his responsibilities and the outcome may have been very different. Same for Jesus. But before you become rigid in your thinking, what about Abraham Lincoln? He saw a great injustice and sought out power to correct it. Those who thought his thinking was rigid always missed the boat on his next act. So you can help, can seek out power and there is nothing in power that mandates you become corrupt. One trademark of a genuine altruistic intent is a freedom to operate in any manner necessary, or VERY flexible thinking. The key point is not to operate under the delusion that power will produce happiness for you, and then you are free to acquire or dispose of it as you see fit (for the benefit of others).

      So if you have a powerful opponent and they are abusing their power, you only need to know that their ideology of using it to gain happiness will not work, and show them that when the opportunity arises. They will undermine their own position in that instance and you will not need to take on their burden. There are obviously other situations we study in Aikido designed to stop someone from doing harm by using their energy against them, and the same apply here. Then you are free to gain power if you think it is the best way to help those around you. As long as you do not follow the delusion that the power itself will make you happy, there will be no temptation to abuse it. Everyone will benefit, including you. This sort of scenario does not happen often, but it does happen. So since it is much better, why not target the best?