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