By Steve Gillman
There is a kind of personal power that is the foundation of
any useful influence or control of the world outside oneself.
It starts with an understanding of yourself, and it is the only
power you can possess that can be called good. Let's look at
a short story to see why this is so.
Jack heard that his company was going to let several employees
go in a month or so, and he had heard that he would be one of
them. After reading a book on how to influence others, and practicing
the subliminal techniques outlined there (they really do work),
he decided to use his new powers to keep his job. With subtle
tricks he convinced his boss that he was too valuable to let
go. He even got a raise.
Jack was thrilled at first, and quietly told a friend or two
about what he had done, and confessed to how much more powerful
he felt having learned about subliminal persuasion. However,
years later he realized he never was suited to the job, and that
keeping it had kept him from finding something more satisfying.
Even worse, the raise he received contributed to a more costly
lifestyle, which would be difficult to support with more interesting
but lower-paying jobs. He felt trapped. The real problem here
was that he didn't know Jack.
What good is "power" in a general sense, if we don't
know how to use it? We tend to think we know what is good for
us (and for others), what we need, and what would make us happy.
Unfortunately, when we follow our own plans, they often end up
like Jack's. The truth is, everyone of us is very powerful in
the sense of having various abilities and potential, but we still
engage in self-defeating behavior, because we don't always know
what is best for us.
Now, here's a simple thought: We don't give a knife to an
infant because he will likely hurt himself with it. He first
needs to learn about his own body, how to use a knife properly,
and for what purposes. He needs to grow up. Why then, do we seek
to give ourselves power before we understand what we are, what
we need, and how to actually use those powers for good purposes?
We may not be infants, but maturity and understanding is never
"complete," and there will always be powers which are
beyond our ability to use wisely.
Personal Power Starts With Understanding
Our own limitations and areas of ignorance are clear from
observing mistakes we make and self-defeating behaviors we engage
in. Honestly seeing this, we have to recognize that any "good"
power starts with a kind of personal power to clearly see ourselves
and our relationship to the world around us. Chasing after too
much money, influence, secret knowledge and other such tools
before one is ready to handle them, is like giving more knives
to an infant.
There are more than a dozen definitions of power, but the
relevant one is the first one I came to: "The ability or
capacity to perform or act effectively." The natural question
is, "effective for what?" If we want to succeed in
politics, for example, then we could measure power as our ability
to do that. If we want to influence minds, we might measure how
well that it is accomplished. In the broadest sense, then, what
I'll call the "true, useful and good" power is about
effectively reaching our highest goals.
We imagine that if we had enough power we would be happier.
Thus we seek more money, more influence over others, special
techniques and knowledge. But honest observation shows that we
see that we can't quite properly use what we have now, let alone
a higher level of power. Unfortunately this is usually just an
intellectual understanding (if we even get that far). We don't
see it clearly enough to stop listening to the thoughts in our
own minds. These thoughts tell us that a bit more money, a better
position, a better body, or control over others will bring us
everything we need.
You'll come back to a study of yourself again and again if
you want to understand the nature of true and useful power. It
starts with the ability to know and control yourself. This will
make sense if you imagine being able to order or influence others
to do anything you want, but being too mentally unstable to know
what you want or to want anything of real value. To be effective
towards any valuable goals, power has to start with understanding
your own thinking and actions first.
Personal Power In Practice
Power in practice can be seen as the combination of freedom
and the specific tools of power. Freedom in this case is a very
personal matter. Whatever the level of freedom in a society in
general, there will always be those who have more or less freedom
to do as they choose, due to circumstances, intelligence and
previous choices that put one in a better position. If you have
already created and accumulated great wealth, for example, you
have many more possibilities open to you than most other people,
and more ability to pursue those options.
The tools of power include knowledge, money, influence over
people, special techniques, mental abilities, and even physical
strength. We could get more specific: investing knowledge, charisma,
physical health and energy, and so on. But the highest level
of power is derived from the highest or most honest understanding
of reality. This increases the ways and effectiveness of one's
interactions with and manipulations of the elements of reality.
It also allows for more accurate prediction of the effects of
one's actions (so what you try will work more often).
Again, though, this cannot be separated from self knowledge.
The deeper the understanding of yourself, the more powerful you
are in real terms. Imagine, for example, that you use the tools
of power to get everyone to like you, because it makes you feel
good. Such action comes from a very shallow view of what is good
Eventually this kind of power to control others perceptions
enslaves you. Your good feelings and even your sense of self
becomes dependent on maintaining that appreciation or adoration.
These people now determine how you feel, and in a sense who you
are. This is a very precarious way to "feel good,"
and usually becomes a very stressful situation to maintain. You
have not accomplished any good at all through such power, but
instead made yourself weaker and more dependent on others.
Real, good and useful power starts with a personal power to
see yourself and your relationship to the world clearly. The
good news is that you have this now if you choose to exercise
it. Interestingly, once this self knowledge is developed, the
exercise of your influence in the world will likely take forms
and purposes you never envisioned before.