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“All power is of one kind, a sharing of the nature of the world. The mind that is parallel with the laws of nature will be in the current of events, and strong with their strength” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).
IF WE WISH TO BE POWERFUL (AT LEAST IN THE GOOD SENSE), THERE IS SOMETHING WE MUST UNDERSTAND. Power comes from having our character and conduct aligned with true-north principles. Over the long haul, the “laws of nature,” as Emerson referred to them, can’t be safely defied or successfully ignored. Both our goals and our means of getting to them must respect what is real. They must be in sync with truth and reality: the way the world really works. If they’re not, our “power” will prove impotent sooner or later. No human being is a law unto himself. We’re each connected to and surrounded by a larger reality of people, things, and forces. When our actions rightly relate us to the world in the larger sense, we gain power; but when our actions put us at odds with the world that we’re a part of, we lose power. It’s pretty simple, actually.
Responsibility. To be aligned with reality, we must accept this fact: the power that comes from rank is weak if it doesn’t accept the responsibility that goes with rank. Authority is a trust, a stewardship. It must always exercise its power for the common good.
Passion. If we don’t care deeply about the things we care about, we ought not to be surprised at our lack of power. John Stuart Mill said, “One person with a belief is a social power equal to ninety-nine who have only interests.” So which do you have: beliefs or mere interests?
Humor. It may seem ironic, but we lose power when we take ourselves too seriously. I’ve always liked Eric Sevareid’s observation: “Next to power without honor, the most dangerous thing in the world is power without humor.” We’re more effective when we can chuckle.
The most powerful power, of course, is the power that serves. There is far more power in the open hand than in the clenched fist. So let’s appreciate the concept of power. Let’s gain it for the right reasons and use it in the right ways. Some kinds of power may corrupt, but principled power doesn’t do that. It ennobles those who possess it.
In every community, there is work to be done.
In every nation, there are wounds to heal.
In every heart, there is the power to do it.