Power & Control

I believe 99% of our behavior is motivated by the need for power and control.

Now, I believe that there are certain circumstances in which power and control is appropriate. For example, in my classroom, I must exert power and control over my students, because, without power and control, as evidenced by ‘Lord of the Flies’ and Survivor, chaos erupts. There must be an authority figure, whoever that is, that organizes and tells everyone what to do, because, as human nature demonstrates, we cannot just organize ourselves. There has to be a bell system that tells the students when to enter and leave class; there has to be a grader, who regulates what is good work and what is not, there has to be an instructor, who tells the kids when to put their journals away, when to turn their papers in, when to pick up the trash. In parenting situations, power and control is appropriate, because parents must assert their authority in order for their children to learn and be molded. Parents must set a curfew, so that children learn to be punctual. Parents must regulate their children’s sugar consumption, so that children don’t eat too much and acquire diabetes. Parents must discipline their children, so that their children do not learn too much free will, and then fail in society. Our human nature is chaotic, free spirited, investigative. Sometimes, we need power and control in order to corral our very messy, uncivilized, and destructive tendencies.

However, I believe there are many instances in which we exhibit power and control that is not appropriate. It is evident in our workplaces, our relationships, our communication, our driving habits. Most of what we do is motivated by either trying to uproot, or suppress, someone else’s power and control, in order to affirm our own. I will drive where ever we go, because I want to be the one who makes the choices about how fast we go and which lights we run. You don’t text that guy back who dumped you, because you want to prove that you are in the power position, and he must bow down to your authority if he wants to hear from you. I am not going to compliment that person on their success, or on their cute outfit, because then that would be admitting they did something good, and I don’t want to admit to them that perhaps they have something over me.

And, I believe that the need for power and control stems from feelings of inadequacy. The classic bully, Scut Farkus from ‘A Christmas Story’, demonstrates this. First of all, he is a raging ging with buck teeth, yellowed eyes, and an ugly fur hat, and most likely got bullied himself at a young age. Instead of dealing with and accepting his unfavorable appearance, he displaces his feelings and turns to bullying and beating up other kids; the kids being bullied and beaten are not picked personally, but rather serve as walls for Scut Farkus’ feelings of inadequacy.

I see people in leadership positions doing this all the time as well. My grandma, for example, talks about a former boss of hers who would send her tasks via e-mail at the end of the day JUST to assert his power and authority over her; the tasks were not urgent, and were certainly things he could do himself, but he wanted her to know that he had the power over her time, that she would then need to stay longer, that would then cut into her personal life. And, the e-mail was really only sent because the boss felt inadequate in his leadership position, and felt the need to prove he had domination over someone else.

I always wonder if those asserting the power and control are aware of this tendency, or if it is a subconscious desire. Like, did I snap at you because I knew I wanted to try to suppress your voice, or was that driven by my ego? Did I share that piece of gossip with you, because I knew I wanted you to know I am holding information over your head, or am I not even aware of my intentions? Did I purposefully take you out of that activity, or not give you that leadership position, because I knew I wanted to be the gatekeeper to those positions, or did I do unknowingly?

I think it is very, very wrong and quite unethical to be motivated by these behaviors of power and control. Morally, I don’t think we should want to assert dominance over other people, especially when that power is designed to put other people down to build yourself up. It really should not be about wanting to control other people, because ultimately, what we are doing is suppressing their voice, and stifling their over personal freedom.

So, how do we move away from these very immoral tendencies? As with everything, I think the first step in curving these power and control tendencies is to recognize their influence. I will be the first to admit that I am one of those people who is highly motivated by positions of power. I like to manipulate situations so that they end in my favor. I like my name to be stamped on everything so I gain recognition. I like to be the center of attention, the one with the funniest story, the highest successor, the most memorable personality (but definitely not the best dressed).

I will also be the first to admit that I am the worst person to work on group projects with. Because of my manipulative tendencies and need for recognition, I often end up controlling the entire project. We always end up using my idea, because I think my ideas are better than everyone else’s. I always end up doing most of the work, because I don’t trust that anyone will actually complete my idea in the way my vision saw. And, I always end up doing most of the talking when it comes time to present. I squash on everyone else’s ideas, eliminate their voices, because my need for power and control is so great.

I think the next thing we have to learn to let go of some of that power and control by recognizing that everyone has something to offer, someone could potentially offer a better idea that ours, and that, collectively, we always produce work better as a group rather than individually. Perhaps we may have a better idea than our group member, but perhaps not; at the end of the day, the important thing is that the project gets done.

I never quite understand why we can’t all just share the wealth and share the power…

But, then again, we are all products of this corruptive, unjust, and immoral social institution known as ‘capitalism’.

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