Thursday, January 04, 2007


The ultimate use of personal power is to allow the powerless to maintain their dignity and their humanity. The most despicable use of power is to use that power to degrade and dehumanize.

The execution of Saddam Hussein is a good example. The taunting and jeering reflected more on the taunters and the jeerers than on the condemned. They appeared petty and cowardly.

We used to own a Newfoundland dog named Baxter. Baxter was huge - at his peak he weighed more than 185 pounds. We used to walk him down our street and past a house where a small dog lived. When that dog was at the living room window he would bark and snarl and be threatening towards Baxter - all from behind the safety of the window glass. It was a different story when he was outside and Baxter walked by - we could hear the whining and snivelling for blocks. Baxter, who then held the power, was a gentleman. He'd look over to the whining dog with his kind eyes and you could instinctively tell that, although Baxter knew his own strength, he would never hurt that dog.

Often power in the hands of the insecure translates into the barking, snarling and threatening behaviour.

The example doesn't have to be as extreme as Saddam's exeutioners. It can be as simple as a loans officer making someone wait unnecessarily long for a loan decision or a business person who elevates their desk chair so that anyone coming to their office needs to look up at them.

There are many examples of this misuse of power. Many of us have been on both ends of these scenarios. Our worth is measured not so much by how we behave when we are powerless (although dignity and integrity still matter) but by how we behave when we have the power and are in a position to deal with the powerless.

In my role as a teacher I have been in a position of power over many people. It is my fervent hope that I have never used that power to strip my students of their dignity, to manipulate them just because I can or to use my power in ways that dehumanize my students.

Rather I have tried to use the power of my position and my expertise to empower my students. I have always wanted them to grow and learn to survive in a world where there is a severe lack of fairness and justice. I would prefer to use my power to nurture and mentor and in some ways to protect them


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