Power With Responsibility

Power is a wonderful thing to have if you know how to use it for the common good, for the betterment of mankind. Unfortunately, many of the people who hold power handle it badly. They know the dangers but all too easily forget them. They forget that power must always be accompanied with commonsense, mixed well with tolerance and measured by the understanding that however great the power we hold – we could be wrong.

Here in the pleasant glades of bucolic Victoria on Canada’s’ Pacific coast we have seen a lot of would be power brokers vying for centre stage in recent months. Some defended the virtue of harshly spoken criticisms because they were spoken “sincerely” and because they were “right”. The possibility that they may not be right is not a consideration. And that is when power becomes a most destructive force; when it is indeed corrupting enough to eliminate reason and destroys the ability to approach problems with a desire to understand and resolve them.

Throughout the ages righteousness and power have been a volatile mix. On the international scene they remain today the main forces generating hate and death on battlefields and in back alleys – as they have since the First Crusades. On both sides of the battle-lines the cause is always right.

We are fortunate in my part of the world to have emerged from those ancient times and learned to find solutions to the problems that plague us by discussion and consensus. At least, apart from sporadic bloody execution outbursts by men and women made unstable by the “rightness” of their cause, we live in peace and relative harmony.

But not without the occasional flash of disturbing anger from a participant who can see only one point of view and believes any opposition to it evil; any challenger to be destroyed, not physically but by public reputation.

It was Lord Acton who said “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely” and the maxim holds good today whether the “power” is held by the dictatorial leader of a nation, an overly militant trade union leader, a public servant, a politician, or a newspaper owner, reporter or pundit. If they hold power they must hold it with a great sense of responsibility and most do, the exceptions being national dictators and newspaper owners – the latter being once described by a British Prime Minister as “seeking power without responsibility, the prerogative of harlots throughout the ages.”

In British Columbia our power battles may be minor, but like summer thunderstorms they rumble on our political horizon a warning alert that the misuse of power can only lead to bad endings. I hope the public servants engaged in seeking solutions to the multitude of problems threatening to overwhelm the Ministry of Children and Family Development will come quickly to understand the need for calm, rational debate and remember that even in the testiest time: “The gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, but the tongue of the fool spouts folly.”


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