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In an interesting study, that was recently reported in a NY Times article, psychologists at the University of Florida have found that humans seem to have a limited store of will power. If some of a person’s will power is used up in one task, they have less of it left over for another task. The study also found that exercising and strengthening one’s will power in one area, generally made it stronger to be used in other areas as well.

In a curious way, I think that the conclusions of this study will stand up to more generalization. Empowerment, for instance. I don’t think we have separate compartments for empowerment in different areas with no interplay between them. Despite the compartmentalized terms that we use for the phenomenon, like politically disempowered, socially disempowered or economically disempowered, empowerment (or a feeling of it) in one area, is connected to, and begets, empowerment in others.

As an example, think about the set of people who are relatively easy to mobilize in the event of a ethnic or communal riot. Unemployed youth. Individuals who are economically disadvantaged, and perhaps consequentially, politically and socially too. Is it not easy for such a person to feel temporarily powerful, at least at a very basic, physical level, when wielding weapons against and cowing down numerous powerless opponents, while being safely ensconced in the immunity provided by a mob? And, also, since might is (still) right, this temporary assumption of power then begets a larger amount of empowerment for the better mobilized, more violent side in the conflict.

At the heart of it, is simply an individual, who is trying to fill up his or her depleted store of empowerment.

Here is a story:

A man was walking with a bucket of crabs. The bucket did not have a cover on it. A little boy who was walking on the same street got scared looking at the crabs’ sharp pincers. But then he realized that the crabs were not coming out. He was intrigued and asked the man why the crabs were not able to escape. The man explained: “if there was only one crab in the bucket it would certainly escape. However, when there is more than one crab in the bucket, if one tries to crawl out, the other crabs would grab hold and pull it back down.”

I have often heard this story being told to motivate people. The idea being that one should not allow the world (crabs) to pull them back from seeking their dreams.

But I think the story has a positive aspect to it. If we could indeed place a system of checks and balances like these crabs did, perhaps we would avoid the concentration of power in a few hands. We would have fewer dictators. (I guess we will also have fewer leaders.)

When a leader is assassinated, what happens to all the concentrated power? What do the crabs do now?

How can democracy counteract the raw power of terrorism? Is saving a life more important than making it worth living? Would you rather have safety or freedom?

It seems to me, from my conversations with people post my last post, that the notion of power is associated with feelings of superiority, hegemony and negativity. Decent people seem wary of being seen as wanting, or seeking, power.

Now, don’t get me wrong, these are ambitious people. People who would bend themselves, and circumstances if they could, to reach the points they set as goals for themselves. It would seem totally in place if their successes make them feel themselves as the fountainheads, as the power-generators, of their achievements. But they would rather call their struggle by other names.

It seems, that power might need a positive makeover.

I am powerful

Well, not quite in the same way as Castro or Putin, but powerful none the less.

Power is a strange concept. It is often associated with domination and similar ideas. But sometimes, simple things, like giving to a person in need, can make us feel strangely powerful. But then again, haven’t we all felt that tinge of powerlessness in the face of untameable circumstances.

I want to explore the meaning of power, and I am hoping that you and I would be able to flesh the concept out. What is power? What makes someone feel powerful? Or powerless? What is one time that you can think of when you felt powerful? And powerless? Can we empower someone?