Hans Lovejoy – Editor
What’s your relationship with power and authority?
It’s worth considering, as all levels of government marshall their forces against the population owing to a bat virus that will likely ricochet around the planet for years.
There’s an immense realignment now unfolding with how the governing class interact and relate to the public.
The world appears awash with those who don’t question authority. In the case of state captured media, that’s no surprise.
Mindless conformists are everywhere! It probably always was this way. Far more interesting are the cracked who let the light in.
But they are the minority and are generally harmless.
It’s those who are in power or seek it that should be treated with suspicion. And studied.
Author and professor of psychology at University of California, Berkeley, Dacher Keltner, wrote in 2016 an article called Don’t Let Power Corrupt You.
His 20 years of behavioural research identified a ‘disturbing pattern’.
Keltner wrote in the Harvard Business Review (hbr.org), ‘While people usually gain power through traits and actions that advance the interests of others, such as empathy, collaboration, openness, fairness, and sharing; when they start to feel powerful or enjoy a position of privilege, those qualities begin to fade. The powerful are more likely than other people to engage in rude, selfish, and unethical behaviour. The 19th-century historian and politician Lord Acton got it right: Power does tend to corrupt’.
He calls it the ‘power paradox’, where ‘people rise on the basis of their good qualities, but their behaviour grows increasingly worse as they move up the ladder’.
Keltner’s research shows that power puts the powerful in a manic like state, which makes them feel ‘expansive, energised, omnipotent, hungry for rewards, and immune to risk’. In turn that opens them up to ‘rash, rude, and unethical actions’.
A way to avoid succumbing to the power paradox – if you are in a powerful and influential position – is through self-awareness and action, he writes.
‘[N]ew studies in neuroscience find that by simply reflecting on those thoughts and emotions – “Hey, I’m feeling as if I should rule the world right now” – we can engage regions of our frontal lobes that help us keep our worst impulses in check’.
Everyday mindfulness practice and basic meditation is one key strategy to avoid becoming a unlikeable and destructive sociopath.
Simply put, that can just be, ‘Breathing deeply and concentrating on the feeling of inhaling and exhaling, physical sensations, or sounds or sights in your environment’.
Reflect on your demeanour and actions, he suggests.
Have gratitude, be attentive and compliment good work, that sort of thing. Too easy! How many people in powerful positions pursue such things? One such master was Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (121 to 180AD). It’s always worth asking better from those who govern us.