Opinion: Powerful questions

We humans have been obsessed with power as long as there has been a recorded history. We consolidate it. We accumulate it. We use it to impose our will on others. And, if we are feeling a little more charitable, we use it to advance the common good. Whatever its purported use, we understand and manipulate it to our own ends.

According to those who study such things, power is delivered it two ways. The first and most fundamental form is Legitimate. It is derived from a specific legal or social authority. The police have Legitimate power to do certain things at certain times. They are authorized by our society to use lethal force to impose their will without consequence (assuming they follow they proscribed restrictions on the license). Employers, parents, teachers, and scores of others have been imbued with this kind of power.

The other, and I believe more important of the two forms, is Influence. It is the ability of a person or movement to urge an outcome. This type supersedes the limitations on Legitimate power. Regulations and governments can be overthrown. New social orders can be established. All but the laws of physics (and human nature) are vulnerable to its pressure. Religious leaders, politicians, celebrities, and a myriad of bloggers, gadflies, and activists can claim access to Influence.

If we have too little power, we often become isolated, depressed, and even angry. If we have too much, we can become self-possessed, narcissistic, and abusive. Isn’t the way we use the power under our control, whether too much or too little, the ultimate measure of who we are? Should we cause harm to others just because we can? Is it any better to hoard power rather than deploy it to some benefit? Can we steal the power of another?