Power and Character
Power is important but despite it’s importance it is still a nebulous concept.
What is power?
As we see from Google’s definition above; Power is the capacity or ability to act. But this still doesn’t mean a lot to us until we take that power away, and look at the situation or consequences of Powerlessness. The inability to act, or to take action that can help shape future outcomes or consequences. Because it is the dynamic between power and powerlessness that really illustrates the concept.
The best current example of powerlessness of an individual is the victim of Brock Turner, who lay unconscious as he sexually assaulted her. Quite literally she could do nothing to protect herself, as he assaulted her body. In this situation we also see that Brock has power. The ability to act in any manner he chooses.
Perhaps this is the utility of the concept of power. By looking at the choices people make when they have power, we get a window into that person’s character. Brock could have chosen to do virtually anything in his situation. He chose to satisfy his own desires at the expense of someone he didn’t know.
At this point it is also worth mentioning the two Swedes who were cycling past when they saw what was occurring. It certainly would have been easy to keep riding, and ignore something that wasn’t quite clear, but they chose to investigate. And then when the assailant ran, they chose to pursue and detain him for police. These choices say something of their character.
If that was the whole story, I doubt I would be writing this post, and I am certain that you would not have heard about it. But there is more. Brock’s family have money. Money is an enabler of power, it gives you more ability or capacity to act and to shape future outcomes or consequences. So despite Brock being caught red-handed, they decided to fight in court. Rather than have Brock admit wrong doing and hope for a light sentence they decided to exercise the power at their command and try to get a not guilty verdict for their son.
This use of power again works at the expense of someone with less power. And again in this case it was Brock’s victim, who had to endure a year of questioning, doubt, uncertainty and re-living the very thing she wanted to forget. But although limited she did have power. She had the power to give in. At any time she could have crumpled, said to the system, and society “Do whatever the hell you want, just leave me out of it”. -This might even be what the Turners were counting on.
That says something about her character.
Then she used the power of words.
She used the power of her very unique and potent story to set a match to the kindling of public opinion.
I am certain that she had no idea how far her victim impact statement would go. The swell of public opinion, not only in the city where these events unfolded, but around the world. The changes that this is likely to make to the system, where one particular judge may be facing uncertainty, but also where those with power in the system are on notice that as a society we are not content to see this sort of thing happen.
- Use of power displays character
- For every use of power there is an impact to someone with less power
- Power amplifies choice, consider your options and choose wisely
- We all have the power to choose, some of us have fewer options to choose from, but the power to choose remains (see Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl)
- Sometimes the power you have is not evident until you exercise it
- Every choice you make brings you to more choices, thus by exercising power your power increases
- Be wary of exercising power for the sake of it. Power can be intoxicating, but using less power is often the better option.
- Being able to tell your story effectively is powerful
Finally I urge you to read the victim impact statement from this case, which is the reason for it’s international impact. It is long but even if you go there now and bookmark it for later, please check it out. This post was to be quite different than it turned out, simply because I read this powerfully written statement.
You can read the Victim Impact Statement Here (ignore the red block of text in the header and read it in the context of the statement itself)
And please let me know below what you think power is or isn’t and whether you agree that it is a barometer to people’s character…