On the Arrogance of Power

Our news these days is filled with stories of persons of power using their positions for personal gain. Often the personal gain is sexual in nature. From the Catholic Church to Hollywood to the United States military to the Federal Government we are learning of persons, most often male, using their status to solicit sexual favors or to force them. In the field of psychology there is a new term –MST. Military Sexual Trauma. The saddest aspect of all is that such abuses of power are nothing new.

Power is a dangerous thing. It takes a person of great self-awareness and spiritual strength to have power and not abuse it. Face it. We all covet power, most often in the workplace but also in other arenas. When we are placed in a position of power, whether by promotion or election, the result is very heady stuff. The temptation to use that power for personal gain is even more enticing.

There are those of us who collude with such abuses by way of silence. We may see a fellow employee be bullied, a female colleague be sexually harassed, a fellow Catholic make an outcry. We remain silent usually out of fear. “If I speak up, I’ll lose my job!” This collusion of silence is as serious a matter as the abuses of power themselves.

For those of us in positions of power, we must face the Shadow within and acknowledge how enticing is the temptation to use that power for personal gain. In an ideal world, persons of power would have spiritual advisors.

For the rest of us, we must face our fears and speak up or otherwise express our dissatisfaction. We can vote those abusing power out of office. We can support union action on behalf of employees being bullied or harassed. We can embrace the whistle-blower. We can take the time to listen to those victimized by power. Historically we know that the Voice of the People can have impact. From Viet Nam protests resulting in a president not running for reelection to Boston Catholics forcing the Church to oust a Cardinal who looked the other way, our history is replete with stories of the power of protest.

Yes, you may be harassed and shunned yourself if you speak up. I know, having once been labelled an “Enemy of the Church”. But for those of us trying to follow a spiritual path, the demands to speak up are unavoidable. The only place for silence may be in meditation.

ReflectionWhat have your experiences been with speaking out?