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In a world where big things seem to happen more or less everyday, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. We’ve all grown up with messages around us telling us that we can do anything, we can change the world and that we are the future. Then we see the inequality, insecurity and injustice in the world and, when you try to square that with the positive messages we’ve heard throughout our lives, it’s hard not to feel culpable in some way.
Now, of course you aren’t culpable for something happening halfway across the world, or indeed the vast majority of what happens even in your own city. The message that you can change the world is theoretically true, but at most it’s as true for you as it is for anyone else – so there are more than seven billion people who can also change the world, and sometimes it’s going to be the ones who want to change it in bad ways that win out. The simple truth is that there is only so much you can do, and so much you can control. So is it a bad thing that each individual holds so little power? Maybe not; let’s look at why that is.
No-one should be trusted with absolute power
Imagine for a moment that you held the type of transformative power that all the most empowering slogans told you you held. How would you use it? How long would you hold that kind of power before you started acting in your own self-interest? What are the chances that you would start using it to settle scores? It’s not necessarily a bad thing that we have control over so little – if you have power, it becomes tempting to exercise it, and that’s not going to be good for everybody.
Limited power focuses the mind
While the above may sound a little nihilistic, it’s actually a positive thing. We are not powerless. We just have to deal with limits on the power we have, and that means that we can exercise it more judiciously. From world leaders to city councillors to faith leaders like Pastor Paula White, there are ways we can use our power for the good of others. We are only in a position to do that, though, if we haven’t misused our power before. Part of the power we have comes down to people’s trust in us; and it’s easy to squander that by abusing people’s trust. Limiting our power helps us concentrate on where we use it.
A lot of people with limited power = a group with great power
Perhaps the clinching argument for relative powerlessness being a good thing is that it encourages collaboration and consensus-building. One person, one activist will always struggle to be heard above the hubbub. However, if they take cognisance of this relative lack of power and work with others to get a collective voice heard, they’ll make life better for a larger group of people. One ordinary person alone is just a person – but in a group you may have a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, and more besides. With that collective strength and knowledge, you not only hold more power but have a better understanding of how and when to use it.
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One thought on “Why It’s Not Such A Bad Thing To Be “Powerless””
Thank you for an interesting post. Another thought on absolute power is that any person in power acts in representation of only a portion of the population, since a whole population of, let’s say, a country is rarely fully on the same page about anything! Therefore, even before you get to the point of abusing power for your own benefit, you are still acting in favor of only some — this is the case with any resolution, but when the power is absolute, the other portion of the population goes unheard.
There’s definitely perks of being powerless in the larger scope, but we all have power and exert it in our social spheres: for good or bad, is up to you.