Power Goes to Your Head

Remember when you were put “in charge” when you were a kid? Be it in charge of the classroom when the teacher had to step out, or being in charge of your younger siblings/cousins when mom and dad were away, we’ve all been in that position. We’ve all felt the rush of power that comes with having authority.

So why can’t we control it?

Throughout life, we are presented with opportunities to have “authority.” Some of these are important, some of them aren’t. There is no objective ranking system to these positions or titles, though, some people are very proud. To some, it means a lot to be in any position worthy of a title. Ideally, they should be humbled and honored by those who bestowed the power and authority among them, not shoving it in anyone else’s faces or (ab)using it to reach your own, selfish ends.

Consider church pastors. I was once given the opportunity to give a message to my church’s congregation. I didn’t write the message entirely myself. I was given a pre-made outline and verses, and I had to fill in the blanks and stretch it out. It was a very different experience from any speech or stage-related thing I’ve done, but I’ve never used it as leverage in any argument. For one day, I was “guest speaker.” That’s a cool feeling, don’t get me wrong, but how about pastors where that is their career? If he preached loving another as yourself in public but was hateful and judgmental towards others in private, wouldn’t that retroactively undermine the value of his messages? Furthermore, what if he went on to try to biblically justify his hatred, because he knows the Bible more than you do because of his pastor status?

This doesn’t only apply to pastors, though. Business executives, police officers, abusive parents, selflessness is a lost art for those who have power. We’ve reached an age where it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate your personal agendas and politics from the power you hold. A common criticism of the Academy Awards, for example, is that they have become too politicized in recent years. While American politics gets better TV ratings than a marathon of every episode of The Simpsons, there’s a time and a place to push your agenda. When you have a platform that big, I sympathize entirely with wanting to use it to get out a message that you believe is important to the people. There are very few people who have won awards like that I can think of in recent years who have not shoved something political into their moment. Two that come to mind are Fred Rogers, who remained silent and used his allotted time to let everyone else think about who they love in their life and supported them to let them get this far, and Leonardo DiCaprio, who spoke about the environment, something that directly impacted the production of the film that finally nabbed him the Oscar, The Revenant. If you want to go really, really recent, Viola Davis’ 2017 acceptance speech makes me tear up just reading its transcript. It’s a wholesome speech where she spends it all thanking the wonderful people she’s known and worked with. I felt as if she was very respectful and humbled the whole time, which was refreshing to see during a very exhausting Oscars ceremony.

But it’s not just those who abuse the positions of power they’re in that are at fault. We also get a high from perceived power, even if it’s wrong. Think about people who parade around with signs that “GOD HATES FAGS” and condemns anyone they don’t like that they will go to hell. They are so self-righteous that they have blinded themselves from the truth of the matter, which is that they have no authority to condemn people to hell. We get a high from that feeling, too: Of being right around a bunch of people who are wrong. Maybe we even crave that to the point of wanting others to be wrong, even if your argument is being picked apart.

We should live every day wanting to expand our minds. Even if someone is hilariously (in your mind) wrong about something, at least hear them out. Maybe you could see a new perspective on life. Don’t shut them down because you may think you rank above them or brag about whatever position you have. To many, what titles you may or may not have attained do not matter: To them, if you are a bad person, none of it matters.

See you next time.

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