Culture Magazine

Power: Want It? Take It

By Cilaw

“Power can be taken, but not given,” Gloria Steinem wrote in Outrages Acts and Every Day Rebellions. “The process of taking is empowerment in itself.”

Thirty-odd years later social science caught up to feminism, declaring: “People feeling powerful think, feel, and act differently than people who feel powerless.”

The media mostly takes a glass-half-empty attitude towards research showing that people in positions of social and financial privilege are more likely to break rules and prioritise their own interests. ‘Upper class people are more likely to behave selfishly‘ quoth the Guardian. The Harvard Business Review muses on “the power-induced tendency to behave unethically”. What these studies don’t appear to have done is ask, when did the empowered behavior start? Some people are to the manor born. Plenty more scramble up the ladder on their own. Of those, my hunch is the majority started acting powerful long before they were.

David Dubois, writing in HBR, identifies two key traits of powerful people: disinhibition (as evidenced by a willingness to disregard social norms) and above-average self-focus.

Instead of seeing this as negative (selfishness is bad! breaking rules is bad!) we should embrace this as a rational two-step guide to a self-directed life.

  1. Take care of yourself
  2. Resist social control

What could be simpler or more effective? Power isn’t a mysterious gift, it’s something we have to find, create or take for ourselves, as Steinem rightly said. Nor is power intrinsically bad or corrupting. Like money, it is just a tool. Used well, it makes life a whole lot better. So if you want more power in your life, remember: cherish yourself and don’t take orders.

Power comes from acting empowered.


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