Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power
– Abraham Lincoln
My friend called, sounding distressed. When I asked what was wrong, she said, “The man is crazy.” (Aren’t they all?) After a few minutes of trying to cajole information out of her, she started lamenting about her boss, how stupid he was (Is anyone surprised?), and how he believed he was God’s gift to mankind.
“The problem is,” she told, “he thinks he is great and powerful. He treats the rest with disdain.” Throughout the whole conversation, what kept me wondering was the word ‘power’ that came up twice or thrice.
On the corridors of power, a few walk with grace, some slide with awkwardness and the rest strut with arrogance – the last lot walk with purposeful insolence and remind us of the story “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. Power is like that invisible dress the emperor wore, which was professed to be the most beautiful, but it only took a child to call out that the emperor was naked, and his perceived dress was obnoxious. The mighty king in a fraction of a second was beyond redemption: lost, finished and buried; irrelevance can be that fast, quick and final.
History is peppered with countless illustrations of such people, who laboured under the illusions of power, only to be brought to reality with a mighty thud; we only need to look at the great, powerful dictators and their plunge to insignificance to realize this. Closer to home, governments have been blinded by the smoke of self-proclaimed power so much that they don’t see a nation-wide revolution getting ready right in their backyard; or the case of megalomaniac CEOs who believe that nothing exists in the world above and beyond their span of power, until the organization collapses and their corner office on the top floor is taken away from them. Reality hits that the absolute subservience they were enjoying was only because of their title, and had nothing to do with their personal credibility. Organizations world over have realized during their fatal fall that the governance power given to roles was just to govern and not to run it as one superior to governance processes itself.
In our world of targets, growth, deals, mergers and acquisitions, the child to call the bluff is a recession; one trembling market causes havoc on the rest of the world. Like the invisible but unquestionable pull of gravity – the grey tug at the core of our being that we are told, keeps our feet grounded to solid earth – markets are tied to each other and anchored on dependencies. As one slides down, it causes along with it a sequential fall, like a row of dominoes pushing each other down on their way to doom; they seem unrelated to the common man but each one is tied to the hip, the co-dependencies visible and invisible, leaning on one another precariously.
As the market slips by a few points, the rest of the economy falls a few inches and a few hundred jobs vanish, resulting in thousands losing their livelihood and for those who survive the pink slip the essential living is burdensome with prices shooting like missiles misfired.
When an event of this nature falls on humanity, brushing aside our assumed powerful with a careless sweep, I wonder what happens to them who walked with arrogance till yesterday, who in their cocooned comfort and perceived power existed under the illusion that success is unquestionable and power is uninterrupted; the blue-eyed boy/girl of the organization, the pinned-up star of yesterday needs only one adversity for the curtain to fall and face the reality that “today” can be survived only if one had been humble and gracious and built credibility in one’s success “yesterday”.
Power is your capacity to influence a change in a positive way. You are powerful when you can make a difference, are responsive to others, usher growth which is inclusive and sustainable; when you are conscious that you are a part of this magnificent universe and recognize that along with you, the ant, the fish and the dry twig are also part of this all-encompassing world; comprehend that each is as special and powerful as you are and each is here to perform his duty which is unique and matchless. The interconnectedness of each other is so compelling and the vastness of creation so forceful that our ego is just a speck and irrelevant element.
The day the powerful realize that power is in generosity and grace, vision and purpose, courage and trustworthiness, they will stop behaving like caricatures by an ill-paid cartoonist; and until they realize that, we can watch them dizzy with arrogance, continuing to walk in ignorance like the emperor in the tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes – naked, frivolous, vile and inconsequential.
Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely
– Lord Acton.