Jay Rifenbary

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The Thirst for Power - A Social Catastrophe

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What is the lure of power, and why is individual power so important to so many? As the span of local to world events continually unfold it is increasingly evident how the need for power is taking precedence over human decency. Two definitions of power are, “the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events," and “political or social authority or control." The catalyst for desiring power can be both positive and negative. When it is solely self-serving it is negative. The implementation of such control over others destroys trust, mutual respect and efficient communication. This can wreak havoc on the effectiveness and productivity of institutions, organizations, societies and relationships.

One’s need for power added to an individually driven agenda is a recipe for destructive and self-centered behavior. Its negative influence can easily corrode the foundation of a morally good person. Interestingly, the need for power by many individuals’ stems from their own personal insecurity, and the belief that dominating others will negate that insecurity. How wrong they are. We, as citizens, consistently witness the destructive aftermath of those who strive for power at the expense of colleagues, family, friends and others. Destructive power can dismantle the necessity for personal accountability among those in power. They use their power to threaten those who may question a decision made, or a behavior displayed. It is also interesting to observe how individuals of principle tend to pose a threat to those who use their power in an unethical, or less than professional manner. It may force accountability for their actions. Power can also be a cloak to cover up personal dishonesty. The requirement to be honest is suppressed when one holds power over another, because they control the potential progress of that person, family, company, community or country.

Dr. Rollo May, (1909-1994), a renowned American existential psychologist defined power as “the ability to cause or prevent change”. Change is the key word in the definition, because change can be a threat to an individual’s maintaining of power. He also proposed two negative types of power, Exploitive Power and Manipulative Power. These two powers are extremely destructive. When used, it is a true indicator of ones personal and professional insecurity. Exploitive Power is the most destructive form of power and it is when power is used “on” another. The aggressor allows the victim no options in the exchange. For example, exploitive power may be making demands on a victim while threatening his life, or a demand that if not followed through with may result in the firing of the individual, i.e. no options. Manipulative Power pertains to persons who are unequal in their power and resources, and is used “over” another. The person with more power influences the other’s behavior. For example, in regard to human relationships, manipulative power may include unfair interactions between parent and child, manager and employee, teacher and student, therapist and client and husband and wife. These destructive powers are also initiated when one senses a loss of control whether it is with a person, or situation.

When one is not threatened by their own insecurities or the principled behavior of others; and lives a life where healthy core values are adhered to, the necessity to use these two types of power is nullified. To exploit or manipulate another to prevent not doing the right thing is the worst expression of destructive power. When in their own mind superiority justifies abuse and unethical behavior, it is a disgrace. It is a true sign of a lack of genuine character, leadership and personal honesty. There is no doubt that power can be used for the greater good. It is an important element in creating change, with the hope of improving our quality of life, workplace and society. It is ideal to think that all leaders would use their power in a selfless and caring manner for the benefit of others, but for those of us in positions of leadership and power there is no justification to exploit, manipulate and threaten those who are subordinate to us. It is an example of our own weaknesses, rather than displaying the strengths of an effective leader.



3 Responses to The Thirst for Power - A Social Catastrophe


1. Stephen Carpenter Says:

This is the first blog I've read. Wow! Rollo May was succinct when I first read him and only becomes more measured now. I've sensed for awhile that bullies are insecure and more than once as a teacher I've called them out; but never publicly because I felt that adjusting their perspective would help save them too. Didn't always work.



2. Zarya Says:

Glad I've fianlly found something I agree with!



3. Maricel Says:

The voice of ratoinatliy! Good to hear from you.


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