We may be weak, but never powerless

Compared to the rest of the universe, humanity is frail and insignificant. Our existence is a paradox and enigma. For despite our apparent unimportance, we alone do more than exist (unless there are other intelligent inhabitants of the cosmos). For we also create. We change our world by bringing into existence what was once just an idea in our mind. Paved roads, transistors, telescopes, skyscrapers, and aircraft are just a few examples that point to the incredible power that resides in our being.

“There are powers inside of you which, if you could discover and use, would make of you everything you ever dreamed or imagined you could become.” Can anyone doubt these words of Orison Swett Marden (1850 ~ 1924, Founder of Success Magazine)? Aware of it or not, power is part of our nature. We are often pleasantly surprised when we first discover it. For example, when Sir Roger Bannister first ran a mile in less than four minutes, he said, “The earth seemed to move with me. I found a new source of power and beauty, a source I never knew existed.”

Sadly, some never come to realize that no matter how weak we may be, we are never powerless. To tap into our infinite power, then, the first step is to become aware of its presence. We need to realize we are dynamos capable of generating great power, if only we turn on the switch. How do we do that? By deciding to take action and following through.

South African author Olive Schreiner (1855 ~ 1920) compared our wellspring of power to a fountain when she wrote, “You may dam up the fountain of water, and make it a stagnant marsh, or you may let it run free and do its work; but you cannot say whether it shall be there; it is there. And it will act, if not openly for good, then covertly for evil; but it will act.” So, you see, we need to be aware of our power, not only to use it to do good for ourselves and others, but also to avoid unknowingly using it to do harm.

Ever since Lord Acton (1834 ~ 1902) said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” the word has taken on a negative meaning. Yet, without the use of power, there would be no lunar landing, Golden Gate Bridge, or any other extraordinary achievement. No, it isn’t power that we need to fear, but weakness. For it was not so much the power of Hitler that killed millions, but the weakness of others that knowingly stood by and did nothing to prevent the tragedy.

What are some roadblocks that prevent people from unleashing their full power? One of them is an unwillingness to let go of the familiar and leap into the unknown. Before a caterpillar can turn into a butterfly or a grub into a beetle it must become a pupa. Although the pupa may appear to be hibernating, inside its hardened exterior, the body of the insect disintegrates into a pasty substance that slowly reforms into the shape of the adult. If we wish to undergo a major transformation, like the larva or grub of an insect, we must be willing to let go of all that we are to become all that we can be. In spiritual terms, we must die before we can be reborn. To some that is a frightening thought, but visionaries aren’t satisfied living as caterpillars or grubs. They insist on developing wings and gladly do whatever it takes to succeed.

Still others fail to release their power because they don’t realize it is often disguised as hard work, patience, determination, conviction, commitment, flexibility, open-mindedness, positive thoughts, good habits, and self-discipline. Gabe Brinson is an example. He bought a self-help book to help him overcome a personal problem. While we were having lunch, he pointed to a couple of paragraphs on page two of his new book and said, “I don’t think the author knows what he is talking about, so I probably won’t bother to read the rest of the book.”

I checked the paragraphs he pointed out, but the only problem I could find was Gabe’s attitude. He was looking for an excuse to stop making an effort. Patience? Hard work? Open-mindedness? Commitment? Determination? No, thanks, Gabe would have no part of it. All he wanted was a cure, and he wanted it now, without any effort on his part! He didn’t want a new book, he wanted a silver bullet. He didn’t want to see a counselor; he wanted to meet with a magician. But our power resides in the real world; in order to access it, we need to leave the world of fantasy and make-believe and come back to reality.

Yes, it’s true, some would rather play the role of a victim than accept responsibility for their actions. Their argument is, “Society screwed me up, so society owes me. I’m entitled to special treatment and shouldn’t have to work as hard as others.” Unfortunately, by blaming others and ducking their responsibilities all they succeed in doing is perpetuate their problem.

Two more roadblocks to overcome before we can experience our power are procrastination and rationalization (justification of our irrational behaviour). Here, Eric Hoffer (1902 ~ 1983) describes the artful manner in which some people fool themselves: “It is a talent of the weak to persuade themselves that they suffer for something when they suffer from something; that they are showing the way when they are running away; that they see the light when they feel the heat; that they are chosen when they are shunned.”

Let’s not fool ourselves by thinking we are powerless. Our power never leaves us, even in the most adverse circumstances. True, we don’t have the power to change the direction of the wind, but we can trim our sails. We can adapt to and make the best of any situation.

Power is not about controlling others, but about serving others. Why shouldn’t we be happy to do so? After all, it is impossible to create a better world without reaping the benefits, just as it is impossible to create misery without suffering the consequences. Don’t be like a dull knife that is useless. Rather, empower yourself, and become an instrument to help the world.

It is not necessary for us to perform mighty deeds or to carry out magnificent achievements, for many small acts of kindness have the power to reduce great suffering. The purpose of having hands is to give those in need a hand, and the purpose of developing our power is to give it away, or empower others. Seneca (4 BC ~ 65 AD) taught that “All cruelty springs from weakness.” So, when we empower, encourage, and recognize others, we reduce the amount of cruelty in the world. Never underestimate the power of your actions. And let’s use our power wisely, for the measure of a person is how they use their power.