(Reader alert: not a very funny post this time, more of a rant actually… my reaction to some shocking behaviour I have been witness to recently… bringing up an almost philosophical reflection on power…)
Very often, I get the feeling that there is “nothing we can do” about things around us. ‘You, the average person, have no power’ I’m told… Even as a civil servant, sitting in an office, the power I yield over things around me can seem puny, without importance, the REAL power is elsewhere.
But in reality, each of us has some amount of power over others, however insignificant.
I have watched a woman behind the grill counter yesterday, exercising her tiny bit of power over a poor man in the queue – she was rude to him, made him squirm, apologize and leave with a meal he did not want, because she had the power at that moment.
This morning, I have been stuck along with many other cars by a woman being dropped of and stepping out of a car in the middle of a round-about in the middle of the morning rush hour. With complete disregard for the fat that there were empty parking slots less than 2m away, where she could have stepped out without a bother for anyone. She even made rude gestures at those who seemed annoyed by this behaviour.
Both seem to be cases of people misusing the little powers they have over others… In a selfish or deliberately hurtful way.
This set me thinking about my own power. Who do I have power over on a normal day? What is in my power?
In some respect, I have power over my family – I can influence their mood – either by driving them crazy by nagging (and I probably do sometimes) or I can help them make their day a bit better. I can help good mood in my house by giving my husband time to play with his photos on a computer for a bit, or by indulging my daughter and letting her “comb my hair” although she usually pulls out some at the same time.
I have a smaller amount of influence (power is maybe too strong a word here) over my friends. I can make my friend’s day better by sending a nice message to them, or a nice care package, seeing them for tea or telling them that the new haircut is really nice (and meaning it).
I have some power over the atmosphere in the office. If I am cheerful and smile, it makes even a crappy rainy day better. I have some power over the lady that cleans my house, as her employer… which I try to take very responsibly. If I try to share information with others, I help all of us work better and more efficiently.
But there are other little domains of power I experience every day over people I sometimes don’t even know…
In my car, I have power over those who are behind me in traffic or those who try to come in from a side lane… In the coffee queue, I have the power to hold everyone up taking 10 minutes to decide what I want, or letting an acquaintance skip the queue and get her coffee at the same time as me so that she saves time. At the post office or in the bank, I can be grumpy and in a rush, or I can smile, joke a bit and wish the person behind the counter good luck for the rest of her day… In a classroom, I can be supportive of the teacher or a colleague giving a training or I can be self-centered and rude at them for “wasting my time” because I believe that what they are telling me is not useful…
By extension, I also realise I also have some (limited) power over some of the bigger things too…
I have the power to stand up or my values in the ways I choose. I can help out the refugees either with money given to an NGO or with gifts of blankets and warm clothing. I have the power to take the bike or the metro instead of the car to do something for my health and climate change. I have the power to spend my time with my daughter instead of watching TV.
I have the power of saying no to chocolate (some days at least, well if it’s not raining anyway, well, a few times a year really) or at least to choose the fair trade one. I have the power to go back to my school to tell students about the European Union and my work and why I think this is important, I have the power to write a beautiful poem that will be turned by a song by my friend who is a Jazz singer and that may make someone’s day… I have the power to vote. I have the power to read and write and express my opinions (although I may not have the power to force anyone to read me – well except my husband – he just HAS TO). I have the power to stand up for others when they are being treated unfairly (and I am afraid that I don’t do this often enough nowadays)… I have the power to say thank you to those who are kind or are doing their job well.
What I believe our selfish individualistic society tends to forget today is that power – all power, comes with responsibility. Even the little powers we have, we should try to use well (or go to hell…).