Sunday, July 12, 2009

Of Power

The sense of Power exists only in the contemplation of its misuse. In other words, a person feels powerful only when he is contemplating the possibility of misusing his position. This looks like a sweeping statement but is no more than the bare fact if one really thinks about it.

There will be little, if any, argument if one were to say that a person who has to choose only one course of action and is bereft of choices is a powerless person. Thus, Power can exist only when the concerned person can choose one course of action from a gamut of choices. A person feels most powerful when the choices he makes can affect other people.

When one talks of power one invariably thinks of politicians and bureaucrats since they are the modern surrogates of Kings and Emperors who were considered the most powerful people in their era. These Public Servants (surely an exhibition of tongue-in-cheek humor to call these people ‘servants’ when they are most likely to consider themselves as masters) are given their positions and their authority in order to serve the public good. If, indeed, they make all their choices for that purpose they are least likely to consider themselves powerful since the decision can no longer be of their choice but will be driven by considerations of public good. Their sense of power comes only because they can exercise their authority to suit their whims. If every action and decision were to be weighed on the scale of public good alone, they would only feel the weight of responsibility. Where the decision of what constitutes public good is based on their judgement the sense of responsibility would be all the more heavy.

There is the much-touted argument about the ‘power to do good’. It is merely a usage of the word ‘power’ to denote capability and not in the sense that denotes a feeling of personal power. The power to give is felt as personal power only when the giver contemplates the fact that he has the power to deny. The chap who delivers the donation cheque to the recipient does not feel powerful since he has no choice but to give it. Thus, even when it comes to giving to social causes, the donor can feel powerful only when he thinks of the fact that he can deny. A sense of power, therefore, comes into being only when the person concerned starts thinking negatively about denying help whimsically. If the Gandhian idea of the wealthy being caretakers is applied, donations/help ought to be given where deserved and exercising your whim to give or to deny counts as misuse.

The adage ‘Power corrupts! Absolute Power corrupts absolutely!’ does not go far enough. A sense of Power in inherently corrupt and any person who seeks personal power is a person who is automatically contemplating its misuse in a greater or lesser degree.

« I confirm the subscription of this blog to the Paperblog service under the username chsuresh63 »


  1. Dear Suresh,

    Your article reminds me of the Tamil proverb “ ThEnai eduppavan puRangaiyai nakkaamal iruppaanaa?” (Won’t the person engaged in collecting honey from the beehive be legitimately tempted to lick off his palm?). What is sickening is that while some are contented with the thin layer of honey on their palms, many others vanish with the bucket of honey itself!


    Cinema Virumbi

  2. I am talking more about "Purangaiyyai nakkuvatharkagave thenai eduppargal!" :):)

    C. Suresh

  3. Hi Suresh,

    The sense of Power exists only in the contemplation of its misuse.

    I think you should copyright this. But i guess that would give you the power to deny others the use of the same :)


  4. Interesting analysis of the word Power. But I also think that confining power to only as power "to do" is limiting it somehow. There is also power "to be" or "to become" - and not in any negative or corruptible sense. After all, we can't really "be" who we are supposed to be if we don't have power. I guess what I am saying is that the power to do is more about an outer dimension of power, and then there is a subtler inner power which I think basically drives everything. Just a thought that came to me as I read your post.

    1. I talk of none of these Beloo! When people speak of the wanting to be powerful, or of someone who has power, they do not talk even of the 'power to do' leave alone 'power to be or become'. They talk of 'power over...' - over someone, something, circumstances whatever. THAT is what is seen as 'personal power' and it is THAT I talk of.

      My discussion is NOT about Semantics - about all the possible meanings of power. This 'power to be..or become' is what I would call 'potential' and NOT power as I discuss in this post. I use the word 'power' to connote this sense of personal power that people seek - and, with almost ALL people, they talk of power ONLY in the sense of 'power over...' :) (Also, how likely is it that the person who is seeking to be or become has a 'sense of power' in terms of feeling and claiming that he is powerful?)

      In everyday terms, what is the first thing that strikes you when someone talks of a 'powerful' friend? Someone who has realized himself OR someone who is capable of doing favors for his friends and family? It is in that every day sense that I use the word here.