Power: A Siren Song

Recently U.S. voters did something they rarely do, they elected a President and gave him majority support in both the House and Senate.  In essence voters said “We’ve removed the gridlock, now make our lives better.”

So what was the first thing the House Republicans wanted to do?  They wanted to protect themselves from unwanted scrutiny.  It’s just one more indication that power is a siren’s song which can lead to bad decision making.  In this instance voters give lawmakers a mandate and they interpreted it as a license.

Mandate is not a license

Voters gave the Republicans a mandate to improve our lives, not a license to do as they please.

The legislators’ actions remind me of the John Dalberg-Acton quote “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”   The voters instilled absolute power, or as near as one can get to it, by voting in the same party in both the executive and both legislative branches.

In a similar vein Lincoln said “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”  So far our newly-elected legislators have failed the test.  If it were not for the quick media coverage, and outpouring of voter dismay, they would have put their interests over our own.

Lessons

In every human experience a lesson awaits us.  In this instance, we have several lessons to help us.

First, we learned that we need to continuously monitor our legislators to make sure that they’re working in our best interests.  If we aren’t contacting them regularly, and I’m as guilty as anyone in not doing so, we need to become more vocal.  We need to have them on speed dial and in our email databases.

Second, we must be careful about how we bestow power, not just while voting, but in our daily lives as well.  The more unbridled power we grant, the greater the likelihood that we’ll become a victim of our own ill-conceived decisions.

Third, there is power is numbers. The few that we elect to govern us should have learned the lesson that they serve at our pleasure.  Fail us and you’ll pay the price.  You’d think that this would be obvious to Republicans who have fought as a minority for 8 years, but it obviously isn’t or they wouldn’t have taken the action they did.  It wouldn’t hurt for us to remind them that the mid-term elections are only two years away…that they have a limited amount of time to show us that they’re really concerned about our welfare.

Finally, we need to monitor our own use of power.  As a consultant one of the things I’ve always appreciated is that I have no power.  I can only suggest.  My “power” is limited to my ability to influence others’ thinking.  My ability to influence is directly related to my ability to demonstrate how what I’m suggesting is going to benefit my clients. 

Isn’t that the question we should all be asking?  How is what we’re suggesting going to benefit the other party?  This simple question keeps power out of the equation…it prevents the kind of self-absorbed, egocentric behavior we just witnessed from our elected officials.

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