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Spots, Sights and Sounds

No power, responsibility without authority

by Christian Michael

October 14, 2013


"With great power comes great responsibility," Uncle Ben once told Peter Parker (Spiderman). Do you think it's true? Does responsibility accompany power? Would that depend on a few things?

Suppose a man of great strength were born in a neighborhood of small people. The stereotypical story would be that this great man would then become the physical protector of that neighborhood, dedicating his life to its security.

Superhero, right? That's definitely a way a hero is made in the stories.

The neighborhood's expectation upon the boy would dictate his destiny, a power borne of the innate quality of the child which develops into manhood.

Follow the stereotype and the boy has his future set for him. But ... what if the boy wants to be a doctor?

Does his innate power lock him into what others want him to be? Does power incur responsibility?

I think it might depend on whom you ask. Some people believe others with power are tied to those without it. As if power borne of people is a limited resource. As if only a few of us are capable of living well or being strong or being brave and the rest of us just have to make sure those with that power use it for everyone else.

I might appreciate the argument that a few of us cannot be strong, but not that only a few of us could be strong.

Power is not borne innately on a fair basis. However, power is acquirable on an equally unfair basis -- those who fight for it are likely to find it. Those who do not fight for it are not likely to, but will spend their time lamenting what they do not have for what they did not fight.

With great power comes great responsibility -- for yourself. Whom you choose to exercise that upon is up to you and will define who you are as a moral person. If you're a person of faith, God might expect you to exercise great responsibility for the people around you. But that's between you and God.

The mere presence of power does not, in and of itself, entitle other people to you using it on their behalf. That big strong kid in the neighborhood is under no great obligation to stay in that neighborhood so the neighborhood can benefit from his bigness and strength.

Because power does not engender responsibility, perhaps we should ask the reverse question. Does responsibility necessitate power? I think it very much does.

You have the responsibility for your own life and the neighborhood in which you live. These responsibilities might require more than you are currently able to handle. To fulfill that responsibility, it will require you to find power, yourself. That does not mean finding ways of making other people who have power to do it for you. It means finding a way of leveraging that power, yourself, or TRADING what power you do have for the kind of power someone else has.

Everyone has power, even if it currently isn't the power we need. I might be tall with a deep voice and can flap my arms real crazy-like, but I would probably get my ass handed to me in a fight. I can look imposing sometimes, but I just have real great posture when I want it. However, I can write really well and communicate ideas. That's a power. I can either go learn a martial art and improve upon a power I only have a little of, or I can leverage the power of my smartness (yes, smartness) to employ someone with some muscle.

At no point, however, do I call upon the strong man to defend me merely because he has the power to do so. He has no responsibility for me or anyone else merely because he has the power to do so. I have no responsibility to help him communicate merely because I have the power.

The order of these two concepts in relation to which might have claim on the other is vital. As well to put a bandaid on before the medicine, or the cap on the gas tank before you fill it up. Order is everything, with these and other concepts. Cart before the horse, what you want before the money to pay for it, etc.

With great responsibility comes the requirement to find and responsibly execute your own power to its completion, not the other way around. Understand that the very root of the concept that the presence of power in one person to the obligation of others without consent  is known as slavery. Slavery doesn't just happen with chains, it happens by any form of obligatory enforcement that might violate the will and freedom of the person who holds that power, especially if that power precedes any choice to assume responsibility.

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