Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.
So said Abraham Lincoln.
He’s right. Power is hard to get right. And most of us don’t grow up learning how to use it wisely and well. And one reason for that, is that it’s a taboo. Like with any taboo –sex or death for instance – we have a truly irrational relationship with it. We hate power yet crave it. We criticize those in power, while staying unaware of how we use it ourselves. We overestimate the power of others, while underestimating that of ourselves. We try to do away with hierarchy and replace it with consensus but fail to see that it just pushes power underground, where it thrives in the endless rounds of arguing and debating, gossip and alliances.
But the taboo against power is most evident in how we pathologize its misuse. We talk about it like a medical condition: people who do so are ‘psychopaths,’ ‘narcissists,’ and ‘deviants.’ We analyze the perpetrator’s personality, wondering if he was abused or bullied as a child. (more…)