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The Power of Fear and The Fear of Power (c)2008


Gary M. Spolansky

(All Rights Reserved)

Nearly all men can stand adversity but if you want to test a
man’s character, give him power - Abraham Lincoln

Power is a theme strongly prevalent in our society that is
often portrayed as the ability to control others. It’s
often presented on TV or in the movies as
manipulative, controlling, fear based, ruthless and many other
adjectives that focus on ego centered drama’s. If you recall the TV
show “Dallas” its main character “J.R. Ewing” was a prime example.
This character embodied the worst aspects of those who have power
and lord it over others. In this particular case it was through money
however, it’s not only in fiction that this attitude is portrayed. Sadly,
the basis for this type of character is drawn from real life and can be
seen throughout our society.

In government for example, corruption and abuse of power on
the federal, state and/or local level is seen far too often. Elected
officials regularly abuse the power given to them in trust by the
electorate for their own greed and/or political cronyism. The same
pattern can also be seen in businesses, schools and other institutions.
It seems that one can’t open a newspaper or listen to the news these
days without some new form of corruption, scandal or abuse being
reported on. So the question becomes, why? Why do we allow such
people to have power over us? Why do those whom we give our trust
stomp on that trust so frequently?

The answer may surprise you.

It’s we who are responsible for these
abuses and scandals!

Who, Us?

Yes, Us.

How can I say that we are responsible, you might be asking?
Because each of us in different ways, have been giving away our
power to others by allowing them to make choices for us rather than
making our own choices, literally from the day we were born.
For example, as we’re growing up, it was our parents who
initially made our choices for us. This was further impressed upon us
in school, when our teachers and the school system basically told us
what we could and could not do. It was further impressed upon us
when we left high school to enter college and even more so when we
entered the working world. Yes, of course, on each of these levels
we were generally granted increasingly greater rights and privileges,
as we demonstrated our ability to make decisions wisely and with
good judgement. But this is also a generalization and not necessarily
true in many cases. Particularly where the degree of freedom to
choose was limited by fears, doubts and uncertainties in those who
had the power to grant those privileges. By this I mean our parents,
family members, teachers, etc. The regiments of our societal
structure tend to erode our ability to make our own choices in favor
of holding out others, as more capable and able to decide for us. Yes,
its necessary to have a certain degree of conformity in order for
society and structure to coexist and of course, their will always be
those who know more or are wiser than others in various situations.
As a result we have often let others make our choices for us rather
than take the responsibility ourselves.

Making our own choices is a skill to be learned.
Unfortunately, the price we pay for not taking responsibility
has become the gradual deterioration of our ability to make our own
choices, to effectively plot our course in life rather than just accept
what is presented and most importantly to face the fears and trauma’s
that have kept us from exercising our natural gifts, talents and innate
ability more fully.

There is another reason why we abdicate our choices so
readily. As noted above, the representation of power in this society
is mostly negative. In my opinion, the phrase that would best
describe the generalized view of power is “power corrupts and
absolute power corrupts absolutely.” When one comes from this
perspective, it’s easy to see why we might shy away from exercising

our own power.

Yet, there is another reason that is even more pervasive.
Within each of us, is a fear that we rarely acknowledge - that we are
actually far more powerful than we allow ourselves to be. In a
deeper part of our awareness, we remember who we really are. A
being of such presence and intensity that if we were to allow our light
to fully shine, it would be blinding to those around us - friends and
foes alike - bringing up the greater fear that expressing this power
would eventually ostracize us from our friends and family.
Why do we fear our own power? We fear our power
because we have been taught that only the elite, the special few
know how to wield it appropriately. That someone who has made
a lot of money is a positive role model - regardless of how that
money was made - and is worthy of emulation. This concept is
heavily propagated by the media who regularly report on and
glorify those who are held out as celebrities, usually for a specific
accomplishment or some excessive purchase and much more
rarely because they are self actualized people. (I guess the old
adage “sensationalism sells” sums it up best) Of course, there are
those who are acknowledged as self actualized and deserving of
emulation, but they are far fewer than those whose celebrity is
primarily superficial.

On the other hand, what we view as true power, how it’s
wielded and what it means is rarely given such focused attention.
In fact, it seems as if our view of true power is more akin to the
comic book stereotype of the overly egoistical mind. That in order
to have power one has to be tough, strong and able to make hard
decisions where emotions do not play a role and compassion is
often a secondary thought - over shadowed by political
considerations and/or economics.

So, What is True Power?

True power is the exact opposite of what we have been
talking about - which is more properly defined as positional power,
i.e., drawn from the structure that provided it. However, if the
structure were to fall, the positional power would be lost. This is
what happens to many who define themselves by their work or
possessions without acknowledging their own true talents and

True power, sometimes referred to as authentic power,
comes from a sense of safety and acceptance of our self and
expresses itself in the form of compassion, understanding,
acceptance and empathy for others - without fear of being seen as
weak or ineffectual. It’s about creating situations where everyone
benefits and not just a select few. The win/win scenario is a concept
that supports this ideal. Where positional power needs a focus and
forum in which to be exercised, true power comes from within the
individual. This power does not rest upon any structure or platform
that can be taken away. It is authentic and comes from deep within,
built upon a foundation of relinquished fears and trauma’s of the past
- recognizing that our real strength comes from letting go of what was
- by embracing our fears and moving past them. FDR’s exhortation
during the dark days of WWII

“The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself”

says it all. Letting go of our fears, allow us to be that powerful being
of light that we really are.

As we can see more clearly now, the idea that real power is
just for those who are elite thinkers, the movers and shakers of this
world is outdated. It’s perfectly appropriate to acknowledge others
and support them for their accomplishments and positive deeds. It
is also necessary however, to balance those accomplishments equally
with those who make their contributions on levels that are not just
economic, but humanitarian as well.

Within each of us is an immensely powerful being that has
waited quietly, calmly, patiently for us to recognize its potential. It
is this part of us, the unfettered aspect that recognizes who we are
and what our path is that lays waiting for discovery. In fact, if you
wanted to give it a title, I would be quick to call it the “The Last
Frontier.” Why? Because it’s here that our greatest ambitions,
accomplishments and achievements lay waiting for us to discover
them. Healing the sick and afflicted, feeding the world’s hungry,
easing the suffering of those who have less are wonderfully
humanitarian goals that deserve acknowledgment and support. But
not one of those wondrous goals can be fully accomplished without
healing the fears, traumas and issues within us that keep us from
accepting ourselves and each other to become all that we can be.
To quote Eleanore Roosevelt - “You gain strength, courage
and confidence by every experience in which you really stop and
look fear in the face”

So how do we accomplish this goal? By actively moving
through the things we fear - not pushing them away but
acknowledging the hurts and pain of the past. Not all at one time of
course, but here and there as we’re able to - recognizing that fear of
dealing with an issue keeps us a prisoner of the past.

Below are some simple suggestions to help you move through
your fears and develop your own authentic power: