‘With great power comes great responsibility.’
While most of the world credits fictional character Ben Parker to have first quoted it in the famous Spiderman series, the first person to actually mention it was the 18th century French enlightment writer named François-Marie Arouet, who is more conventionally remembered as Voltaire.
While what he preaches through it is suitable for a morally upright person who has been in power, but it does not explicitly apply on every powerful character in this world. Every human wishes to impose his thoughts and ideologies upon others to be able to make life easier for themselves.
Compromise is second to this. Fortunately, most people have to choose the latter only due to the fact that they are not in possession of power. But ambitious people, who have a vision for their society, nation or the world altogether, often tend to break their limits to attain the position of great power.
It is then that their opinion matters enough to be able to affect the thoughts of the people he is surrounded by. But the most important catch here is that how well he manages this great power he has been bestowed with. Does he use it holding on to humane ethics or does he let it intoxicate his soul.
Power and its influence
Power is a term with varied interpretation, but the core meaning of the word remains the same- to influence any decision and action. This is the sole reason that enamours people to attain it. Power comes in various forms and influences people accordingly. One type is the physical type, the power of the body. Naturally, every able bodied person is gifted with this one.
The ability to walk, run, lift things and carry out other day to day life activities. Notice how every bodily action that one are capable of is an attempt to influence their surroundings. What differentiates physical power from great physical power is strength.
Power channels its influence through two mediums- respect and fear. Naturally, building muscles, stamina and endurance will give any person the physical ability to achieve things far better than an average human. They can run faster, lift heavier and are hardened.
The natural medium of channelling influence through physical power is fear. It is very evident when a being possessing physical powers beyond our limit, it intimidates us strongly. The 2017 Delhi Zoo incident, where a 22 year old man fell into a white tiger enclosure, which had trended on social media and news channels for various reasons, is a perfect example of how physical power strikes fear in the hearts of physically weak.
We have domesticated small cats but not tigers or lions, just because smaller cats are physically weaker than us, while tigers are physically stronger than us. The case is similar for interpersonal relations too. People would tend to stay on the good pages of a physically strong person; unless, they possess power in other sorts.
The power which is able to counter physical power is mental power. The human brain is the most advanced brain that is known to this planet so far. Inventions and discoveries are the evidence of this statement.
While we are the most intelligent species, at the same time, we are also physically fragile, hence to make up for that, we invented many things which help us protect ourselves and preserve our welfare.
A competent person is someone who has knowledge. Wisdom is the weapon of the sages. Hence, the importance of education and general awareness should be instilled in an individual from a young age.
While mind power can get a person some position of power, it is the power of expression that will definitely put them in a much more advantageous position. A good grasp over language and oration attracts people as it is able to stir the emotions inside the common folk.
The best of the world leaders have been unmatched orators who were able to tap into the mob sentiment and harness it to influence their decisions. Paired with exceptional wisdom and experience, the power of expression has emerged as a deciding factor for leaders to be chosen.
Finally, there also exists the power of ethics. We, the people of India have given unto ourselves a constitution. Similarly have many other nations. Constitution is basically a general rulebook consisting of rules and regulations that govern a country.
This is a major feat as influencing the decisions of people across a whole nation is no easy feat. But legal powers are an artificial power, created and compiled by humans, hence needs human intervention to be enforced upon other people. They are able to command both respect and fear amongst the citizens of the nation they belong to.
The Power-Responsibility Continuum
Power has the tendency to corrupt; hence great power can lead to absolute corruption. John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, a famous English historian had once stated- ‘Great men are almost always bad men’. But the way he cautiously added “almost” in his statement is proof itself that this hypothesis has exceptions.
Once in power, it’s easier to give in to the tyrannical temptations it offers than to use it judiciously. Hence it is taken for granted that a man in power is bound to become an autocrat.
But at the same time, Lord Acton’s contemporary, John le Carre, had once said- ‘All power corrupts, but some must govern.’ Hence it takes conscious efforts to keep in check ourselves and not fall into the void of avarice.
The principle of power is to influence, hence once attained, it compels people to skip the morality and infringe others’ rights. The biggest examples of this are the dictatorial states and tyrannical autocracies. History has been a witness to one of the most brilliant of persons, who after acquiring position of high power, blatantly gave up on their morality to commit unethical deeds.
The Jewish holocaust is an irredeemable malady that brings Hitler amongst the list of most infamous characters in the history. A brilliant strategist and an exceptional orator, Adolf Hitler had in his hand the power that most just dream of.
Yet, lacking the morality, he used his powers irresponsibly which ultimately caused his downfall. Even in the 21st century, we find examples in the form of Arab and African dictators who gave in to the enticement of power. Muammar Gaddafi and Robert Mugabe are two of the best examples of the Modern Era of irresponsible use of power.
They did start off as popular leaders working for the welfare of their people, but over the course, the effects of power started to leak into their ideologies which soon led to the rule of tyranny in Libya and Zimbabwe. But the Arab Spring was to come sooner or later, with the advent of social media and improvement in global communication which brought in with them the widespread revolutions and civil wars in Africa and middle-east.
Hence, power without responsible attitude doesn’t only bring destruction to the powerful personality, but also over his sphere of influence. Under the intoxication of power, if a person refuses to recognise his responsibilities for the society becomes unaccountable and loses the trust of society.
There are enough exemplary personalities who have showcased wise utilization of power to live up to their responsibilities. The father of our nation, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi has been immortalised as the Mahatma. The people identified the righteousness in his use of power and trusted him to be able to lead them in their fight for independence and achieve liberty.
Probably, the most important responsibility of a man in power is the welfare of his people. And this can only be achieved if the man is morally upright and understands the value of empathy. Another famous example comes in the form of Nelson Mandela- the man responsible for the abolishment of apartheid in South Africa and making it a free nation.
What makes him different from Robert Mugabe is the fact that he not only knew empathy for the people of colour, but also their former white rulers. Mandela saw them all in the same light and took the responsibility of the welfare of both the cultures. But Mogabe was too inclined towards Black Nationalism to the point of radicalism. Although he was able to dominate his country for years together, his flaws finally led to an unfortunate end for him.
Responsibility without power becomes irrelevant too. For a person to carry out his duties and perform up to his responsibilities, it is vital that they hold power. They should be adequately empowered to be able to entrust them with responsibilities.
Hence power and responsibility are always in a continuum, supporting each other in all aspects of life. Responsibility keeps the access of power in check while power provides a medium for responsibilities to be carried out.
Humanity has thrived seeing both the sides of the coin of power and responsibility. On the side of power exercised responsibly, the people in power were successfully able to keep the interest of the public over their self-interests and work selflessly for the improvement of the world.
Such a leader becomes a crowd favourite as he not only is in power himself, but also empowers his society. On the other side of the coin are those who imposed their power irresponsibly, prioritising their personal interests over the desires of the public.
This has brought infamy and notoriety to their names and has always ended in their downfall throughout the timeline of humanity. It is important to possess moral values and humane ideologies to be able to accept power and understand the responsibilities that come with them.
It is the ethics of humanity that keep the leaders from succumbing to the temptations of tyranny which is also a part and parcel of power.
Power and Responsibility follow the principle of proportionality. All power, great or small, comes with equally sizeable responsibility. Conclusively, power and responsibility are complementary. As long as they stay together, they can peacefully govern the society, but the moment this law is violated, instability gradually claws through the state of the governance.
Hence as citizens of our nation and the most advanced species on this planet, we are bestowed with powers and hence should be responsible towards them. A culture of realising and enacting power responsibly will definitely lead to a positive future.