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Power Corrupts

Physical reality conforms to the “law of the jungle,” “survival of the fittest” – “might make right.”

While grounded in physical reality we human beings originate from another dimension. We are spiritual beings having a physical experience. We possess boundless potential; an endless capacity to explore and experience, learn and grow, create and contribute – all to fulfill the intent of life; to express more life.

The power we possess has purpose. Personal power allows us to fulfill our highest and truest potential.

Facing the challenges of the power-driven jungle we struggle to find our way. We individually and collectively struggle with power. The greater the struggle the more chaotic life becomes.

What is it about power; what makes this power-struggle so wrenching?

Human beings have unique and awesome capabilities and unique and awesome power. That power and those capabilities are most awesome when used collectively – in unity – cooperatively and collaboratively. We can direct that awe-inspiring power toward productive or destructive ends.

The “law of the jungle” says survival comes down to power. I say progress and prosperity, life’s advance, comes down to how we manage power.

The ancient Chinese concept of Yin and Yang advises the universe is governed by a cosmic duality, sets of opposing and complementing forces or cosmic energies. Our greatest challenge is dealing with these opposing forces and striving to achieve a delicate balance.

For us, the pendulum constantly swings between “we” and “me” extremes.

We have been given life and been bestowed gifts – capacities and talents. Those gifts however, come with a cost. With personal power comes the burden of personal responsibility.

As we’ve discussed, when the pendulum swings toward “me” instead of “we”, more and more people push back against the burden of responsibility. More and more of us abandon or forfeit our power. But what happens to that power?

More power is up for grabs.

Instead of embracing our personal power we look to external circumstances to determine how we feel. Abandoning our personal power is actually turning control over to others who then tell us where to go, what to do and how to feel.

But remember – all power comes with responsibility. Power cannot be separated from responsibility; as hard as we try.

We don’t want to be responsible so we let someone out there – someone who is willing to take on responsibility – control our lives.

Controlling what’s out there almost always comes down to controlling people.

We approach managing power and or controlling other people in one of two ways.

The first is accepting our personal power and the responsibility which accompanies that power and spending our time, energy and talents trying to do the best we can with what we’ve got. We try to make the most of this life and the most of ourselves within whatever limits we define.

Personal power is personal; it is meant for or tied to each individual person.

If someone forfeits his or her power and someone else is willing to take that additional power on, that someone else must bear the weight and shoulder the burden of that additional responsibility.

I’ll give you an example of how properly managing another’s personal power works – a family example.

The natural management of power within families falls to parents. Parents maintain power over and responsibility for their children. Children will not survive without a parent’s care. As children grow, good parents teach their children to employ their own personal power and accept responsibility for themselves. By the time a child reaches adulthood that individual should fully embrace his or her personal power and responsibility to become mature, fully empowered member of society.

The first way people manage power is appropriately by employing personal power and accepting personal responsibility.

Since personal power is the means for individuals to fulfill their potential and power comes with a burden; only selfless people take on additional power.

Genuine leadership is assuming power freely given and bearing the weight of that additional responsibility for the sole purpose of helping individuals grow and become; for helping others achieve their true potential.

The second means of pursuing or managing power is attempting, what we think is the “easy”; no responsibility; something for nothing; “me first” self-centered option.

Back to our family example.

Parents denying they possess personal power to teach their children that outside forces govern life; and ultimately outside forces determine how they feel. These parents don’t show their children the truth.

Children of parents who deny personal responsibility grow up learning to blame everyone and everything out there for their circumstances and for how they feel. Never shouldering personal responsibility, these children learn that what matters is control over others. Survival demands putting “me” above everyone else.

People who don’t accept personal power – control over how they feel – and instead focus on controlling others; jump into the jungle of life. Everything is a competition. They compete with everyone, everywhere, all the time.

They look for freedom without responsibility; something for nothing. And based on the economic, political and social tactics we see employed routinely today – these people will do anything to get what they want.

This is bad for us all.

It’s not that everyone denies responsibility all the time. It only takes twenty percent of the population to get the entire society moving in a positive or negative direction. A few change the course of many.

When people forfeit their personal power and abandon personal responsibility that power is up for grabs.

We desperately struggle with power, either accepting personal power and the burden it entails; or competing to gain control over circumstances and others. The struggle is very personal, very social and right now, very active.

Personal power is a gift for an individual to achieve his or her true potential. Taking on another’s personal power for the purpose of advancing one’s self-interest is an abomination; it’s the misuse, the wrong use of power.

You’ve heard the age-old adage: power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Personal power bears a burden – responsibility – and that burden exacts a price. The added weight of responsibility takes its toll on the individual bearing it. Power people abandon is inherently corrosive. Over time, bearing the burden of additional responsibility, even a selfless person is tempted to turn from “we” to “me”.

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The challenge we face as human beings is to carry our own burdens and make the most of ourselves.

See how this challenge plays out socially in our next session.

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Written by

Scott F. Paradis