Saturday, June 23, 2012
I personally never understand why people actually seek positions of power. Ed once read a science fiction novel that portrayed American presidential elections in the distant future. The country decided that the best president was the one who didn't want the job. So the leaders drew up a list of the best and the brightest - wise, intelligent people from all over the country, and interviewed them all. The ones who were eager for the job were crossed off the list. The one who truly disliked the idea the most was the one they put in office. (I assume they had lie detector tests or something similar to assure the reactions were legitimate.) The premise was that no one in their right mind would want to hold a position of that power, and anyone who wanted it had to be...well, crazy. The person who didn't want the job would be the best in the job.
I tend to laugh at politicians who are asked but decide not to run for high office. Their reasons are so in keeping with their sense of what they should say. "I'm satisfied as a senator, thanks." "It's not the right time." "My family is not in favor." "I have health problems." "I want more time to gather support." OK. I'm looking for the guy or gal who can be honest and say, "I'm honored you want me to run for President, but that job scares the crap out of me!!!"
I served on a local jury several years ago. It was intriguing, but frustrating. I hardly had the ability to choose my outfit for the day, never mind deciding the guilt or innocence of another human being. The power was too great, the risks for error too high.
With power comes responsibility, and therein lies the conundrum. I will freely admit I don't want the responsibility of running the country and making decisions about the economy, jobs, environment, and warfare, while simultaneously trying to work with people under me who are just as power-hungry and looking out for their parties, their friends, their companies, their positions, their prospects, and their salaries. I just don't get it. Why would anyone actually want this job? It's not a perk - it's a burden. Actions you take can affect the world. Who thinks they are up to that monumental task? If you think about it, anyone who runs for President of the United States thinks she/he is the best person in the whole country to tackle that job. That's either a healthy ego of a truly remarkable person with vision - or a deluded individual whose quest for power has blinded reality.
Much has been written about how power corrupts. Even politicians who enter the field for "duty and public service" eventually find the temptations of power too hard to resist, and the survival of their careers so important that ethics can be set aside. What chance does integrity have against riches, power and privilege? Sometimes, not much. Temptation on a small scale is bad enough, but on a grand scale can ruin lives quickly and infamously. Someone who thinks that eating sugar is bad but knows it is his weakness should never be in charge of a bakery. In the same way, an environment that harbors betrayal, bribery, peer pressure, fame-seeking, and shameful secrets may not necessarily be a good choice for certain individuals who are not prepared for the pitfalls of living in such an environment. Occasionally you will see Jimmy Stewart as Mr. Smith in Washington rise above the fray, but more often I fear others are pulled into the riptide and drown in the unforgiving waters.
It's Washington that is the seat of power in this country, but I'm not just talking about Washington. From principals to mayors to office managers on up - with power comes responsibility. Power demands integrity and power requires wisdom. We each have to examine our own souls to decide if we have what it takes, and are not just trying to take what it has.
Of course, the kicker in all this is that we have the power all the time for a variety of things. Every day we have the power to hurt or soothe someone's feelings, the power to lend or refuse to give help, the power to serve or demand service. Every minute of my time is led by my personal decisions on how to use my personal power. That, quite frankly, is enough for me.
I don't need or seek to have control over other people. I wouldn't be comfortable managing a small office, let alone a country. I don't consider that a sign of weakness. I consider that a confirmation that I know enough to run away.