“The dilemma of authority in our time, the particular fear it inspires, is that we feel attracted to strong figures we do not believe to be legitimate.” –Richard Sennett, Authority
Power begets power. Power also begets followers, who presume the power will be used appropriately and for their mutual benefit. Unfortunately, power occasionally begets abuse of power. We’re often stunned by the revelations and headlines–How could someone with so much authority and record of service, do something like that? But it does happen, and, day by day, we’re less and less stunned.
In Minneapolis, according to MPR News, “Three archbishops–Roach, Flynn and Nienstedt–and their deputies have shielded and shuffled priests who were known to have abused children (like the Rev. Clarence Vavra) across the archdiocese, instead of forcing them out of the priesthood, for decades.”
On the East Coast, Gov. Chris Christie used his office’s power to hold citizens hostage in a four-day traffic jam in Fort Lee as political payback to the city’s Democratic mayor for not giving Christie his endorsement.
On the West Coast, Joshu Sasaki, a 106-year-old Zen Buddhist teacher, has been accused of groping female Zen students over the course of his 51 years in the United States. “Critics and victims have pointed to a Zen culture of secrecy, patriarchy and sexism, and to the quasi-religious worship of the Zen master, who can easily abuse his status,” according to The New York Times writers Mark Oppenheimer and Ian Lovett.
Abuse of power at these levels comes from our society’s view of leaders as authoritarians. They have some skill or power that we honor, and we bestow an elevated amount of authority to them. When left unchecked and unquestioned, absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely. The world of business in not immune to this maxim, of course. The abuses of power are just as astounding and grotesque, once they’ve snowballed and been reported, but their beginnings are usually more subtle.
Governor Christie did not start his abuse of power simply by creating the Traffic-Gate. That was the most notable abuse of his power to date, but before that he used a police helicopter as his personal limo. There were signs and abuses that should have been questioned and checked. They weren’t, and his abuse of power grew.
What are you doing that might be considered a subtle abuse of power?