Throughout history, the extreme desire for power has resulted in tyrannical leaders, repressive governments, genocide and wars. On a smaller scale, it results in child abuse, sexual assault and discrimination by people who feel a need to be superior to someone or some group they deem inferior and vulnerable.
The list of examples is long, and includes ethnic cleansing during the Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, and the murder and displacement of Native Americans by white pioneers. It also includes the kidnapping of Africans who were sold into slavery by rich white southerners for financial gain.
Hatred, violence and bias against other races continue today as evidenced by the actions and goals of white supremacists. According to a March 17 article in USA TODAY, “Incidents of white supremacist propaganda hit an all-time high in 2020, according to a new report from the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, which has tracked racist propaganda for decades. Anti-Semitic, racist and anti-LGBTQ+ posters, flyers and graffiti were recorded 5,125 times in 2020, according to the report, almost twice the number of incidents in 2019.”
Not so obvious are incidents we’ve all experienced in our workplaces, personal lives, schools and communities. I can’t speak for anyone else, but because I’ve lived and worked in so many places, I’ve seen it first-hand more times than I can mention.
I had two female bosses and one male boss who used their power to intimidate and belittle employees and cause harm to innocent clients they felt were beneath them. Their actions were not only cruel, but unethical, and I left as soon as I noticed it. And we’ve all heard of male bosses who use their power over female employees to get away with sexually-oriented comments and actions.
When I worked at a detention home, I saw how some employees used their positions to incite unrest so they could punish the offender and show how powerful they were. And, although it’s extremely rare, I’ve seen teachers do the same. Out of the hundreds of teachers I’ve observed in the past 12 years as I accompany students with special needs to regular classrooms, I’ve seen only three teachers use their power to intimidate and incite vulnerable students. One of those teachers was in her first year and her contract was not renewed.
Some occupations, like those in law enforcement and corrections, attract people who desperately need to use and abuse power to make themselves feel superior. We’ve all seen examples of that in the news. Like teachers, the vast majority of people in law enforcement are fair, competent and ethical, but those who aren’t cause pain, suffering and sometimes death.
Then there are those who are attracted to politics for the power it gives them. Their concerns are not the welfare of the people they’re supposed to represent, but their self-interest. They’re often backed up by the rich who hire lobbyists to convince them to work on behalf of their own special interests. Sadly, it’s worked for a long time because there’s no law against it. We voters need to find out which members of Congress are refusing to pass campaign finance reform bills, and then vote them out of office.
There have been books written on the reasons some people have a desperate need for power, but almost all agree it’s usually due to bad, or non-existent parenting. That and other reasons are explained by Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. in his May 1, 2020, Psychology Today article, “Are power-hungry people inherently corrupt?”
Overall, people who show an extreme need for power and superiority also crave money and adulation. They have no empathy for others, are dishonest, domineering, revengeful and some even commit or initiate violence. Those without the money or prestige to give them power feel a need to show it in several ways: by attacking innocent people because of their race or beliefs, committing domestic or child abuse, or making fun of others.
Most of them start early. We see them in our schools and neighborhoods where young bullies go after other children they see as being unable to defend themselves. What they’re trying to do is fill an emptiness which was never filled by loving, nurturing parents or other role models.
Fortunately, they’re in the minority. Most people are compassionate, kind, and willing to help those in need. Many volunteer, mentor youth and donate to good causes. They all deserve our gratitude, as do those who achieve high levels of power and use it for the good of their communities and their countries.
As for the others, we need to call them out or, in the case of politicians, vote them out. That’s a power we have and shouldn’t waste.
Pat Nash has lived in the Baraboo area, off and on, for more than 35 years. Contact her at email@example.com.