When Power Becomes a Problem

The renowned psychologist and philosopher Erich Fromm said, The ordinary man with extraordinary power is the chief danger for mankind — not the fiend or the sadist.” But really, all power can be dangerous if not treated with care.  I remember telling a friend about attending a meeting in the Cleveland area with Haitian dignitaries who embarked on an expense-paid tour around the United States to collect ideas about fighting corruption.  “Why would they come here then?” asked the friend.  Indeed.  Perhaps they ran into Jimmy Dimora in their travels.  Haiti is corrupt as it gets (see Earthquake Relief Funds), but America is not exactly the model protagonist.

Again, power is not a problem in and of itself.  But those who take it without caution can very easily find themselves in danger of corruption…no matter their good intentions they had when receiving that power.  My recent brainstorming about this topic has led me to come up with three things that lead to positions of power.  I’m not sure this is a complete catalog of what leads to power, but if you have one of these three things consider yourself warned.  If you contain all three in unison, I’m not sure you don’t need to pray for humility everyday before you get out of bed in order to avoid some form of corruptness.

  1. Choices.  It’s simple, the more choices you have the more power is placed in your hands.  Coincidentally we live in a society that loves to set up a buffet of choices before you.  Just go to the aisle in the grocery store (oh, wait you have to choose which store to go to first) and stand in front of the place that contains salad dressing.  You feeling ranch?  Great…which kind?  Peppercorn?  Buttermilk?  Light?  The choice is yours…and even in a small form it’s power.  Contrarily Amanda and I have had an empty fridge lately in preparation for a move.  “What’s for dinner?”  “Well we only have a couple potatoes.”  “Sour cream?”  “Yep.”  Then dinner is decided, but it was decided for us.  The fewer choices, the less power you have.  This leads me to the second pitfall of power…
  2. Money.  Money buys more choices.  If Amanda and I had money, we probably could have gone out for dinner…but alas we were tapped for the month.  There are few corruption cases that don’t involve money or the pursuit of money.  I say this while Mega Millions has reached $540 million.  Everyone dreams of what they would do with that money, and very little of those dreams involve doing good things for others.  OK, I did think about giving some to my family members and other charities…but certainly not before I was going to take care of me first.  The temptation messes with me even though I have no chance of winning the money!
  3. Influence.  You don’t need money to influence, but it doesn’t hurt either.  Influence creates power over people, and again it is almost always behind corruption cases.  Nearly all corruption involves someone who is in a position of influence, whether a Politician, CEO, Assistant Football Coach, or Pastor.

Notice how all three of these snares can very easily tether.  Money can buy choices and influence, influence can create more choices and money, choices can be leveraged into more money and influence…and more choices.

Even as I write this a part of me thinks: “Well good thing I don’t have a problem with this.”  With this statement, however, I’ve made myself into the baby gazelle that the hungry lion sets its eyes on.  So as I try to understand my own hazards of power, I would ask you to consider yours.  And try this prayer on for size…

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart,Hear me.
Fromthe desire of being esteemed,

Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved…
From the desire of being extolled …
From the desire of being honored …
From the desire of being praised …
From the desire of being preferred to others…
From the desire of being consulted …
From the desire of being approved …
From the fear of being humiliated …
Fromthe fear of being despised…
From the fear of suffering rebukes …
From the fear of being calumniated …
From the fear of being forgotten …
From the fear of being ridiculed …
From the fear of being wronged …
From the fear of being suspected …

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I …
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease …
That others may be chosen and I set aside …
That others may be praised and I unnoticed …
That others may be preferred to me in everything…
That others may become holier than I,
provided that I may become as holy as I should…

RafaelCardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930),
Secretary of State for Pope Saint Pius X

 

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