Power is a subject that seems to appear with increasing frequency these days. The U.S. is said to be the most powerful military force in the world and have the most powerful economy. The terrorists have shown that they have the power to instill fear and the Federal Reserve has shown they have the power to arrest a declining stock market.
With all this talk of power, I thought it might be interesting to give some thought to personal power; what is it, who has it and how do you get it. Though the personal power we have and use is not comparable to an infantry division, it is much closer to home in our daily lives.
Power is the ability to compel others to do what we want them to do.
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said, “Being powerful is like being a lady, if you have to tell people you are, then you aren’t.” Individual power comes from three sources: wealth, position and achievement.
Wealth, whether earned or inherited, puts us in a position of power. Conspicuous expenditures create recognition. Elegant living and high-visibility charitable contributions announce to the world that we are a force to be dealt with. People like to associate with the wealthy in order to raise their own prestige in the community. There is a presumption that wealthy people have some ability to help or hurt us, and we want them to be favorably impressed with us. Therefore, they derive power from their ability to compel us to do their bidding to avoid the risk of offending them and thereby risk banishment from the tribe.
With their ability to sway political opinion through financial support of candidates and causes, the wealthy have undue influence on government at all levels. There is much talk these days about limiting this source of power through the legislation of campaign finance reform.
It is only talk and will never be passed in any meaningful form and is probably a bad idea anyway. No one has figured out how to limit campaign spending without trampling on the right of free speech.
Position gives more actual power than wealth. Elected officials, corporate executives, bosses, university presidents, policemen and church leaders all exert direct power over our daily lives. Position gives one the authority to hire, fire, adjust compensation, arrest and publicly chastise. The laws we must obey and the corporate policies we must abide by result from the power wielded by those in positions of authority.
Living in a civilized society requires that we give people in certain positions authority to govern or our society would falter.
Thus we delegate power to politicians to make laws to protect public rights, provide public services and exact taxes to fund the operation of government. Accumulating the capital necessary for the operation of our free economy requires that corporate officers be empowered to direct business according to their best judgement.
Power by achievement results from acting in ways that cause others to admire us and trust us. Helping friends and co-workers builds a power base — they are indebted to us. Becoming the “go to” person within our company carries a large measure of power. Serving as an energetic volunteer for charitable organizations provides recognition and power — particularly achieving the pinnacle of head volunteer. Gaining power through achievement is the most accessible way for most of us to increase our influence. Since most wealthy people are born that way and very few climb to positions of power, working our way up the ladder through recognition of our services and talents is the most logical path for most people.
Why is power to compel others to do our bidding so important? So what if some are more powerful than others? I honestly do not know the answer. However, power is popular and has been throughout all of human history and is likely to continue to be forever.
Displays of power have been good as when a villain is deposed or society is made better in some way. Power has been an evil force in other instances where the rights and happiness of people have been destroyed to satisfy the few.
Power is accompanied by responsibility. When capable people of goodwill are placed in positions of power, whether by reason of wealth, job title or accomplishments, our society is made better. When selfish, egocentric folks acquire power, they lay ruin to the opportunity that their situation makes possible. What a pity.
Thought for the Moment — Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.
— Albert Einstein
Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.