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Power: We All Have Some

Most of us, I suspect, are suspicious of power. After all, we hear of its corruptive influence often enough. You probably know the quote (or at least a paraphrase of it) attributed to Lord Acton:

‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.’

We all have the power of agency, the power to make our own decisions, which allows us to exercise control over our destiny.

Those of us living in liberal democracies have access to more power to make our own decisions than those living under authoritarian regimes – but we may not be as free as we like to tell ourselves we are. And, people living under authoritarian regimes probably have access to more personal power than the authorities have led them to believe. They just have to be more careful with how they exercise that power.

From an early age, we were encouraged to hand our power over to authority figures: parents, teachers, priests, policemen and politicians, to name a few. In fact, as part of the compromise of living in society, we’ve collectively handed significant power to the State in trust. We’ve entrusted our governments with the power to make laws regulating behaviour and property rights, which makes sense when you consider the implications of large numbers of people living together in the one place. It would be chaos, if we didn’t have agreed forms of behaviour and rules encouraging us to respect the rights of others.

But, as Lord Acton reminds us, we need to keep an eye on the people making the rules in our name. Sometimes they go too far and make rules favouring one group in society at the expense of all the others. Think about the way the tax laws, for example, tend to favour the interests of the wealthy while all of us wage earners are taxed at source on payday. Or think about the rules that stop businesses from making false claims in their advertisements, while there are no rules stopping politicians from lying to us. And, then, think about all the rules impinging on our rights made in the name of national security.

If we want to keep our freedoms and the power to choose, we need to be active in the political life of our societies.

It’s not only the political arena where we need to exercise our personal power. We need to reclaim all that power we handed over to authority figures when we were young. It was appropriate for our parents to exercise control when we were children, but it’s no longer appropriate now we’re adults. We need to take back control our lives.

I’m sure our teachers always had our best interests at heart, but they operated in school systems that pushed specific agendas that were not necessarily in our interest, and taught us things that are no longer true, even if they were at the time. There has been an explosion in knowledge across the last century, especially in the fields of science, and some of that new knowledge has yet to make it into the textbooks. And, let’s remember, rote learning is not the same as critical thinking. It’s high time we exercised our power to think critically about everything we encounter in life, especially about anything some supposed expert is pushing on social media.

And, what about the beliefs we were taught? Blind faith is not faith at all. It’s the result of indoctrination. We have the power to question what our elders told us was the truth, and we owe it to ourselves to do just that. That’s why I wrote My Life Is My Responsibility – to encourage you to exercise the power you have to find out the truth for yourself and change your world. 

There is no point in having the power to make your own decisions, if you refuse to use it.

Featured image by Seth Dunlop | DTS