A very smart man once said that the only people who should lead are those who don’t want to. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, with the torrent of leaders who seem determined to do whatever they have to do to get and retain power. I’ve been thinking about this in connection with the strategies that various institutions use to get the authority they so obviously want and need.
The man who said that was Socrates, through Plato in The Republic, and the idea was that a hunger for power was a sure sign that someone wasn’t fit for it. That idea seems to make sense to me. So many people think that power is a great thing. They believe that power is influence and money and the ability to make people do what you want them to do. But what is never said, what is probably never even thought about, is the fact that power is responsibility. If you have power over people, if you make the decisions that decide on their quality of life, their opportunities, the direction their lives can take, that means that you are also responsible for how those lives turn out.
Every single one of them.
Who would want a responsibility like that? Do you really think that any of the leaders today would truly want the power they now have if they were held accountable for every person that they failed? Truly accountable? And would they want it if, instead of being legally accountable in some way, they felt guilt and grief for every failure? The politicians we vote for, rail against, ultimately mostly ignore, does anyone truly believe that they feel responsible for every life under their care? And why do we vote them in, allow them anywhere near a seat of power, if we don’t believe this to be the case?
People become politicians these days for the power. And you can’t say that’s a sign of our modern times, it’s always been the case. There have always been a certain percentage of the population who enjoy having power and chase it. These are the people who don’t understand that power is actually an unending responsibility towards those whose lives you then direct. These are the people whose primary concern is the continuation and expansion of their own sphere of influence. These are the people who shouldn’t be allowed to be in authority over a rock garden.
You can see this twisted form of thinking outside of the political arena too. Religious institutions are built around people who have power and want more, using the authority of a god to make their power even more intense and invasive. Would the men who rail against the use of condoms continue to do so if they felt the pain, guilt and death of every person who died of AIDS because of this policy? Would they change their minds if they understood, truly understood, that they were responsibility for all of the consequences of the policies they brainwashed into people?
Socrates, through Plato, went on to talk about the kind of people who should be allowed in power and it was all very complex, but a reasonable sum up of the idea is simple. The only people who should be given power are people who are educated in how to think, not what to think, and thus understand the true nature and weight of the responsibility to the extent that they know they want no part of it.
I can’t think of a single leader, political or otherwise, in the world at the moment who seems to understand this 2000 year old lesson.
That would seem to be enough time for it to sink in.