Every powerful person ultimately finds themselves at a crossroads with a choice determining how they will exercise their power- through fear, intimidation and the abuse of power or through service, integrity and benevolent behavior for the greater good. Excluding the Machiavellian approach of dictators, author Dacher Keltner in his article How to Find Your Power—and Avoid Abusing it says, “Your ability to make a difference in the world—your power, as I define it—is shaped by what other people think of you. Your ability to empower others depends on their willingness to be influenced by you.” In turn, once you’re granted power over others, your actions will be the measure of what choice you made at the crossroads.
Keltner gives us insight on ways to avoid mistakes using the following ethical principles: Be aware of your feelings of power. This feeling will guide you to the thrill of making a difference in the world like the physician who improves the health of dozens of people every day or school teachers who inch their students toward academic success. If you remain aware of this feeling and its context, you will not be entrapped by myths that power is money, fame, social class, or a fancy title. Practice humility. Power is a gift. Don’t be impressed by your own work—stay critical of it. Accept and encourage the skepticism and the push-back of others who have enabled you to make a difference in the world. Stay focused on others, and give. The most direct path to enduring power is through generosity. Give resources, money, time, respect, and power to others. The more we empower others, the greater good is increased. Practice respect. By directing respect toward others, we dignify them. We elevate their standing. We empower them. There is no reward people value more than being esteemed and respected. Change the psychological context of powerlessness. There are many ways we as individuals can do more. Pick one aspect of powerlessness in the world and change it for the better. Attack the stigma that devalues women. Confront racism. Call into question elements of society—solitary confinement, underfunded schools, shortchanging individuals with disabilities, bullying practices, police brutality—that devalue people.
Unity comes from the practice of empathy, giving and expressing gratitude. Keltner reminds us, “These practices make for social interactions among strangers, friends, work colleagues, families, and community members that are defined by commitment to the greater good, where the benefits people provide one another outweigh the harms they cause.” If you’re tired of watching what you see on television or social media, turn it off and participate in society for the greater good. Remember, your actions speak louder than your opinions about our current state of the world.
Originally published in the Bay City Tribune on Sunday, December 10, 2017.