Power is, well, a powerful thing. The way we think about, pursue, and use power is perhaps the most defining marker of our personality. It reveals and determines. We are, in my estimation, obsessed with power. We want it badly. But, in all honesty, we are not really sure how it works. We are convinced it does, that it is key to thriving, but we are not sure of the dynamics involved.
While there are many things we presume about power, a couple really stand out. The way we perceive power affects how we feel and what we do.
The first of these presumptions is that power is a limited resource. Desired by all, but available to few. When we view power as a scarce resource, it informs our pursuit of it. And the way we respond when we see it in others. It is a narrow ladder, leading upward. A few might climb in and reach the apex. Most will fall off the sides.
The second thing, for the purposes of this blog, that really underlines our perception of power is our firm belief that it will get us the things we desire most. For some, we perceive power itself to be the thing we desire most. But the majority of humans realize that power is a means to some end. It is a resource. So, the ends we want can be a variety of things – to see our ideas come to fruition, to have people like us, to belong, to be certain/in control. And we think power is not just a way, but the way, to get the things we want.
To The Top
So, with these two presumptions in tow, our pursuit of power becomes a central endeavor. And, since power is scarce, we view ourselves in competition with one another.
If we think power is the answer to our ills (or, to our dreams) and we think power is only granted to a select few, it is not hard to explain much of human behavior. If the options are to fall off the sides of that narrow ladder or push someone else off, well, it is unfortunate, but someone has to get to the top.
If power is scarce, it can’t be shared. Nor honestly, completely celebrated.
If power is the key to everything, it cannot be ignored. It is just not possible not to think about it. Power becomes the entity in which we place our hope and trust.
These dynamics create the worst of human behavior. We sabotage others. We use them. We polarize everything – sports, politics, religion. Everything is framed in an us versus them mindset. That way, when we win, we do not have to share the ladder.
But there is another, much more subtle, dynamic at play here.
As we are pursuing this lust for power, the real strength (or lack thereof) is being exposed. Our character is making itself known. And there is a part of us that does not like what is seen. But, again, the end justifies the means. We have to do what we have to do. Power, not character or love or any of those lesser/weaker things, is what matters. If a little character has to be sacrificed, so be it.
At The Top
Most people will get stuck along the way. But some (and more than we might first consider) find a measure of power. They get to the “top” of that narrow ladder.
And what happens there?
One of two things. Embracing reality, which means, in a word, disappointment. Power does not inherently bring peace and control and fulfillment with it. So, what the heck are we supposed to do now? Often, the choice is to pursue more power. We start to chase that narrow ladder in some other area of our lives. Ever wonder why so many celebrities struggle with substance abuse/addiction? It is because their initial pursuit of power has exposed the lies within our presumption. And now, they are pursuing chemically altered power, that drugged feeling of immortality, or attempting to numb the emptiness they feel because power is not the source of fulfillment they thought it would be.
The other option when you reach the top is to deny reality. To pretend your power play has worked as designed. To ignore the voices below you and the voice within. This is how we get such big, bad politicians/athletes/musicians acting like tyrants and/or toddlers. They are playing a game, a game others are not interested in or invited into. Yet, they don’t realize they are playing a game. Their delusion has replaced reality. Which is dangerous, to say the least.
Along the way, the piece that actually does matter is all too often ignored. Reaching the top of the ladder as a means to fulfillment is a myth. What truly matters, what truly leads to purpose and meaning, is how you steward yourself along the way. Whether you reach the top or not.
Power is not as scarce as we presume. It is in all of us, too often lying dormant because we have chosen the Golden Calf of our presumptions rather than the truth of our character.
You are a person of power. Peace is stronger than war. Love is more impactful than control. Getting your way is not as satisfying as participating in the complexities of community. The dynamics of power are within you, waiting for their day in the sun.