When I think of the word Power I hope the word Responsibility is closely following. Power is linked to energy in my thoughts; energy needs to be channeled to be an effective source of power. Uncontrolled power is dangerous; think of yourself trapped in a vehicle with a hydro line dancing on the surfaces around you. Unregulated power is a threat to life and limb. Unchecked power can evaporate entire cultures.
Some thirst for power. I used to ask people at gatherings what they most desired. The words Fame and Fortune often came up. I remember one such discussion in a university seminar when a student concluded that any 3 wishes granted by a Genie would ultimately reveal a quest for Power. If this fellow was right, that life is always about acquiring power, I wonder if it matters more what we do with the power we have collected. Our energy and influence is required if we are to flourish. Planet Earth has suffered from our search for power through extracting energy from decayed matter. This has been a conquest with end-of-days consequences. Our choices regarding power can rectify and renew.
Everyone must have authority over their personhood. This is at the core of ideas of Freedom. Yet I am also a person through other people, so I must have responsibility towards them as I do for myself. I can’t say I have ever wished for authority over another. Power over others actually frightens me. I once had a meeting with a school principal concerning what he saw in me, a beginning teacher, about my leadership qualities. I was appalled when he suggested that he first learned to exercise power over others by controlling his wife, then he felt he could extend this to his dealings with other teachers, and so eventually became a head of a school. He delivered a power point that didn’t sell me.
One unique individual can inspire. We’ve read of religious prophets, noble knights, lone western gunslingers, and inspiring artists. We don’t need to sift through history to find examples of extraordinarily gifted individuals. They are in your neighbourhood, living right now, practising their skills. All members of a community have a responsibility to share their power. Sometimes we enable others to expand their influence. We may elect them to represent us on a larger stage. We must take care who we anoint with political power, then it is up to us to remind them of their vow of service. Abuse of trust often comes when a person in authority convinces themselves and us that the end will justify the means. Tragedy, of the individual and societal sort, often follows.
It’s never easy judging when to step aside, when to chime in, when to take charge or when to turn your back. My greatest rewards have been from empowering others to achieve their goals. Working with shared agency is an energizing experience. Being involved means hooking up to a people power grid. Tears of joy will come from proclaiming, “I/We did it!”.
Symbols must change or perish. I worked in elementary school education, an institution remarkably slow to change. In policy and practise, the methodology of teaching has not changed significantly either. From slate to iPad our technology has advanced but the symbolism of students being given information by teachers is still with us.
Our country’s flag is a symbol. I can remember when the Red Ensign flew in the school yards of my youth. In the classroom it hung beside a picture of Queen Elizabeth, symbolic of her reign over us all. In 1965, when our flag became the familiar red maple leaf it symbolized our emergence as an independent nation; even though Governors General still symbolically stand in for Her Majesty in our government. My country’s flag currently is misrepresented to promote Freedom by truck driving convoy members bent on overthrowing parliament.
As I watched the visit of Prince William and his wife Kate to various Caribbean Islands, I grieved for our inability to create new symbols of service instead of perpetuating signs of servitude. A member of England’s royalty providing blessings is old news that holds us back from the challenges of working together. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDCQUPEiqmA
Statues of once revered politicians and conquerors are being torn down throughout the world in what might be described as a mass awakening to the lack of relevant symbolism. A common wealth of nations is what the United Nations was set up to accomplish without irrelevant figureheads.
Around the world Wealth has become symbolic of power. Those who have fortunes are allowed to judge those who don’t. Television programs Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank ask participants to come before a court of Oligarchs to plead their case. Billionaires like Elon Musk are permitted to manipulate entire industries with their fearsome purchasing might. Few societies, past or present, have been successful in limiting the power of the wealthy. I live in a province where First Nation potlatches were once banned by governing white colonists because they couldn’t understand the symbolism behind a ceremony where the rich gave away their possessions.
For something to be symbolic it must have a strong link to Value. Corporations try to sell their products as symbols of something we care about. If the company logo can be imprinted on our collective psyche then it’s easy for us not to question how the plastic wrapped item got into our hands or homes. Watch closely the next time a commercial interrupts your baseball game. The ads are all about symbolism, not about the substance of what is being offered for sale. Gambling (particularly on-line sports betting) is being strongly promoted as a citizen’s right. The dollar sign is a dominant symbol in our capitalistic world.
I’ll join others who are sounding their cymbals in the world symphony of warning. An awareness of the role symbolism plays in our lives is critical. To my ears the music of money is not sustainable. The cries of those suffering are falling on deaf ears.
A nerdy game I used to enjoy playing in high school started with the question, ‘Would you rather have fame, fortune or power when you grow up?’ It wasn’t really a game, more like a continuation of the more childish Aladdin’s magic lamp suggestion, ‘If you had three wishes…’.
I loved camping with my parents (I had my own ‘Famous’ brand rucksack and cooking equipment). I enjoyed learning about the woods and the ways of the world as a boy scout. I got into scraps while in uniform and one time I remember shouting as I got pummelled, “I’m going to be famous!” The bully just laughed, but I felt buoyed by my hopeful prediction. Even when I was older I felt that youthful sense of optimism when I saw myself through the eyes of the characters in the musical Fame. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqMmquNLnHg
In my youth, I thought it would be way cool to be famous. I saw only positives to being recognized wherever I went. The other two options didn’t appeal. I was actually frightened by the prospect of having more money than I thought I could handle. Likewise with power, I couldn’t see having dominance over another. I never felt my influence extended any further than the tip of my nose. But fame! Now that would give me access: Right this way sir. Of course we have room for you. Follow me I’ll show you to your table. Certainly we can make that happen.
There used to be a common saying, Big Fish in a Small Pond, that indicated you could be well known in your small community while no one in the wider world would have heard of you. Today I’m wondering if the reverse is true, due to social media. The potential for a small voice to be amplified through Twitter or Facebook can potentially enable a metaphorical small fish to make a big splash in the world’s ocean of varied opinions. I suspect that is why online platforms are so popular. I enjoy giving my opinion, whether it leads to nods or shakes of the head. The possibility is there to get more than just the 15 minutes of fame that Andy Warhol prophesied. The internet has expanded the idea of the nineteenth century speakers’ corner in Hyde Park, England for good and for ill. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4yHwCaptL0
I remember one of my elementary school teachers often using the proverb, “Oh how the mighty have fallen.” I can’t quite figure out why some people enjoy seeing celebrities come down a notch or two. But I guess fame is currency so if you feel you have been de-famed, you can seek restitution from your detractors in court by suing for defamation of character. If you fail in your suit, your reputation will live on in infamy, like those who bombed Pearl Harbour.
Everything has a down side. For instance, being famous would make it hard to find privacy. Achieving balance on the FAME spectrum from anonymity to renown may be difficult. I shall ponder further.