The Lust for Power
We all want some measure of power and control in our lives. That’s natural. We live in a hostile and often cruel world. And no healthy person wants to be completely at the mercy of such a world. However, some character types have a troubling relationship with power. They tend to seek it too rabidly. They pursue it at all costs. Moreover, they tend to seek it for its own sake. And, unfortunately, when such folks secure it they’re prone to abusing it. That’s the very nature of character disturbance.
Wanting a necessary measure of power in your life is one thing. But lusting for it is quite another. Folks with a lust for power are never satisfied. The more they get, the more they want. They worship it as an idol. And it then becomes an end in itself. It ceases to be a way to protect and advance life. Lust always has its price.
Power and Character
A famous assertion is attributed to Lord Acton. He suggested that power inherently tends to corrupt a person. And he added that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” He drew his conclusions from his political observations. But is his deduction correct? Is power itself an inherently corrupting commodity? And if that’s true, should we all do our best to shun it?
Abraham Lincoln offered a different perspective on power and character. He suggested that if you want to know a person or test their character, grant them some power. What they do with it will tell you all you really need to know.
Years of experience have taught me that Lincoln had it more right than Acton. Power itself is not inherently corrupting. If it were, no infant child would have a chance to survive. You see, the power a caretaker has over such, fragile, vulnerable life is absolute. And the person possessing it knows they have it. Fortunately, most caretakers don’t let it go to their heads. Nor do they abuse it. There are exceptions, of course. And in our character disturbed times the exceptions are far too many. But most folks still accept the power afforded them with awe and trepidation. They know the influence they wield. And they’re humbled by the tremendous responsibility accompanying it. That is, if humility, a reverence for life, and a sense of obligation are aspects of their character.
Abusers of Power
There are many ways to abuse power in relationships. That’s true whether you’re talking about workplace relationships, intimate relationships, or even political and governmental affairs. So many times we face imbalances of power. And that’s why character matters so much. Ideally, we’d like to thing that someone with power over us would never abuse it. But we live in very character-impaired times. Accordingly, abuses of power are pretty common.
Narcissists of the malignant variety severely lack empathy. So, they don’t care how others feel or are affected by their actions. And because they idolize power, they derive great satisfaction lording it over others. It makes them feel bigger, stronger – superior. They’re quick to use the power they have to coerce deference and to punish those who resist. Overtly, they may bow to those who appear willing to bow to them. But this is purely practical, tactical. In their hearts, they bow to no one. And while they expect others to kneel to them, in their hearts they actually hold disdain for those who do.
Malignant narcissists use and abuse others in relationships. Others only have value to them if they feed their already inflated egos. You can expect them to abuse any power they secure. And that’s not because power corrupted them. They’re already corrupt – morally bankrupt. And we err when we afford or surrender power to such folks. They might promise us the moon if will only give them a chance to wield it. But it behooves us to be wary. And that’s because they seek it only for their own gain. The welfare of others doesn’t really concern them. (See also: Sound Leadership Derives from Character.)
Nowadays, you have to be particularly careful about entrusting power. And it behooves you to be mindful how anyone you afford a measure of power uses it. That, as Lincoln asserted, is how you know their true character.
Our social world is full of necessary inter-dependence. Therefore, we’re all vulnerable to those who wield authority and influence over us. Sometimes, we can’t just separate ourselves from those who would abuse their power. So, we need to have strong support and protections in place. Still, the surest way to avoid abuse is steer clear of rabid power seekers. You just don’t want to entrust power to someone who craves it too badly.
Perhaps there’s no place where power and character prove more important than our political and governmental affairs. And if there’s anything the many institutional abuses of power we’ve witnessed should have taught us it’s how much character matters. It matters today more than ever. We’ve tried crafting rules limiting power. But the corrupt always find ways around the rules. Besides, rules and structures are not ultimately our best protection. We need to remember the lesson of the vulnerable infant. We’re safe only when someone we have to entrust with power has the character to wield it responsibly.
The pilot program on spiritual growth issues had to be postponed. Electricity outages in Florida due to Hurricane Michael created the technical issues. I’ll post some information as soon as the program is rescheduled.