I read the news every so often and I see things like “Vladimir Putin annexes Crimea” or “Goldman Sachs executive appointed to high-paying government position.” The motivation for this stuff is power, and it amazes me to watch, because people are obsessed with power. People want the power to get the stuff they want at the store. Credit card companies want the power to take your money with high interest rates. Presidents want the power to force their will on Congress, and Congress wants the power to override the President with what they want to do.
Your boss has power over his employees. The IRS has power over your income. The government exercises power over the populace in the form of laws, and the powerful people in the government get to write them and lord them over the rest of us. In fact, even if we look at a bunch of monkeys in a jungle, we will see alpha males with power… power to mate and direct the group, power to banish monkeys they don’t like, etc.
The whole world revolves around power like a panther circling its prey, and like it or not, this is the way life works. If you want to do ANYTHING, you need some form of power to get that accomplished.
This can get a bit depressing for me at times. Clawing over one another for more power doesn’t leave much room for things like balance, or compassion, or altruism. Those things are important, but if we are really honest with ourselves, the only way those things ever come about is if someone with the power to make them happen decides to… well… use their power to make them happen.
Okay, here’s a good example: say you want to do something really good, and decide that you want to feed the homeless. What do you need to actually DO that? Like, in the real world?
Well, you have to have money and time and security, which means you must have already fed yourself and your family before you are able to think about anyone else. You usually do that by working to earn money, and then using the power that your money gives you to take care of the ones you love and then, if there is any money left over, others.
Another example… say you want to quit your job and live on a beach in Tahiti. Hmm… you better hope your saved and invested money is more powerful that the boss that will fire your butt for not showing up to work! See how this works?
The common theme that goes hand in hand with power is money, and for good reason. Money is the quantifiable medium we as a society have chosen to store and exercise our power. Is also a great invention, because it democratizes power. A serf in the middle ages had no money or opportunity to earn, and therefore no power or possibility of getting any power over his own life. His “master” exploited that system to increase his own power over his serf and others.
There have been many examples in our own country and in recent history where companies flexed their power over employees and forced them to accept “company scrips” instead of money, and these scrips were only redeemable for hugely marked up items at the company stores. In this way they had power over the employees work AND compensation, effectively creating modern serfdom. Of course, these were lumber companies in the 18th century. Certainly nothing like that could happen today.
You, in contrast, are thankfully in a much better place. You have the ability to work hard, live below your means, invest the savings, and watch your power grow. Granted there are challenges even now, but at least you have a much better shot than the serf. And that shot is important more than we realize. If your loved one is sick and needs expensive medical care, do you have the power to save them, or will you have to rely on the charity of others? If your car explodes and you lose your job, do you have the power to rise out of that circumstance? When you are old and infirm, do you have the power to continue to live with dignity?
This is some of the stuff I’ve been mulling over lately, because money is quite literally this: we are trading our skills and time in exchange for the power to change our own personal world, and then using our intelligence to keep others from taking our power away from us. If you work like crazy and save up $15,000, and then someone else exploits your lack of understanding to sell you a brand new car that loses 30% of its value the second you drive it off the lot, then the power you accumulated by working your butt off minus the power you lost through making an unintelligent decision equals about $10,500 worth of value ($15,000 cash – $4500 new car depreciation = $10,500 value). Finance that car at 5% interest, and your power is reduced even more. Your loss in power in this example is quantifiable. We can assign a number to it.
But what if you had used your power and intelligence and exploited someone else’s unintelligent decision? Say, let them give in to their need to buy the car new, drive it for a year, and then when they try to sell it, come in and get it at market value for the used car after they have paid for the worst of the depreciation? More power for you, less power for them, right?
The truth is, I believe that this is an incredibly cynical way to look at the world, because no one really thinks when they are buying a used car “I’m gonna exploit this sucker to increase my own power at their expense of theirs!” Well, unless you are a douchebag. But douchebag or no, and cynical or no, this really is a very accurate way to view how the world works. Some people want to live in denial, and some want to try an be a mouse attempting to keep two elephants from fighting. Others accept this as the way the world works and try to make the best of it.
Things like altruism and helping others are values that (once you’ve learned how the game of life works and increased your own power accordingly) you can force on the world. Alternatively, if you accumulate power and then decide to hurt others through, say, starting war in Crimea or decimating the retirement savings of thousands of other people through dodgy bank accounting practices, you can do that too. Does that scare anyone else? That we are in a world with billions of other humans with varying levels of power and varying levels of moral direction? I mean, I meet very few people who even seem to understand that this is what’s going on. The few who seem to grasp it are usually clawing over others as fast as they can. Assuming you are a person of conscience, what does this knowledge mean? What should you do with it?
To be honest, I haven’t entirely figured that out yet. But I have developed my own personal life philosophy (work in progress), and it goes something like this:
1.) Power, in its various forms, is what drives the world. Therefore, its important to pursue.
2.) However, power is a tool, NOT the end goal. If you use power to get more power, you’re doing it wrong. If you use power to make your family and yourself safe, and then use the extra to make the world a better place than you found it, you’ll be a much happier, balanced, and fulfilled person.
3.) There are people/organizations out there that have lots of power and not a lot of conscience, and they will try to hurt or use you if you get in their way. Learn to recognize, avoid, and pity them. But pity like you would a hungry tiger.
4.) Learn to base your self worth on something other than money and power. Both are volatile and ultimately aren’t important beyond what they can help you achieve as you work to better your family, your community, and yourself.
I’ve learned that power is all some people can see. But I’ve also learned that no one lies on their deathbed wishing they had spent more time at the office. No one, at the end of their life, wouldn’t trade the selfish decision they made at the expense of others for the love that would have made their lives richer. The reason is because power, in the end, isn’t important. It’s what we do with the power we have that determines who we are… and I believe that if enough good people use their power for the good of all, the world will transform into a much better place.