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Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Cleansing Effect of Power

Power tends to cleanse all actions regardless the scope of the atrocity.  Therefore, the self-justification of the powerful can typically be anticipated.  This can apply to powerful individuals, to powerful organizations (companies, institutions), to powerful countries, to powerful alliances.  I view this fact with some sorrow, for my country since my birth has been the “most powerful nation on earth.”  I have seen it do terrible things with relative contentment and conceit.  The mystical cleanser of power reliably serves to sanitize the events and imbue them with a sense of righteousness, self-justification, and even prestige.  Power is an elixir to render invisible cankers afflicting the body of the state.  What can be done about this other than the limitation of powers which proves to have imperfect effectiveness?  How can the golden rule be made operative and relevant within the metallic haze of regnant power?  The essential problem is that power is perceived as being tightly congruous with a taunt toughness.  The entity is strong and powerful, and this is proven by toughness, even ruthlessness—thus forming a compelling closed loop satisfying the vestigial reptilian legacy within our brains.  Brutality in action and attitude affirms and justifies power.  To show compassion is to be weak therefore not powerful.  To show ruthlessness is to be strong therefore appropriately powerful.  This is fundamentally axiomatic and is near universally evident wherever serious power exists.

The only cure for the ruthlessness-power identity is to appeal to the mammalian mind in which nurture is the key to survival.  The mission of the powerful then becomes the task of enabling others—to serve instead of to dominate.  I think of the saying from the Knights of Pythagoras “A man never stands as tall as when he kneels to help a child.”  But a goal of cultivation rather than domination requires a servant role whereas those desperately yearning for power are often striving to satisfy a deep psychological need to control—to rule from above.  The paradox of servant leadership is totally foreign to the configuration of their character.  We must look again at the nurturing of youth and learn how the obsession to control becomes fixed in the mind and relieve that obsession thus freeing people to truly serve in nurturing leadership roles.  Power and compassion can then be joined.  The “me-them” dynamic can be transformed into a relationship of mutuality.

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