One of my favourite lines in the 1980s soap opera Dallas was spoken by Jock Ewing. “Power isn’t something that you can give,” he sneered angrily at his dim, weak, yet good-looking son, Bobby. “Real power is something that you take.”
It’s a great line, and it encapsulates the idea that power is a conserved quantity. If one person gains in power, another loses. But I don’t think power really works like that.
In a recent article, I discussed how the three most powerful people in the world are long-dead prophets. I still think that’s true.
But if historical religious leaders are still wielding huge power over people today, who precisely have they taken this power away from? Do their followers willingly give up their own power to serve them? That’s one way of looking at it. But some of these modern religious folk look pretty powerful to me. They seem highly motivated, organised and driven, to say the least. It looks like they’re generating power of their own.
A coach motivates his team, but he doesn’t take power away from the players. So I don’t think power is a conserved quantity at all. To phrase it in terms Jock Ewing would understand, power isn’t something you just give or take: real power is something you create.
So if power can be created and passed to others through inspiration and motivation, it follows that we can all make each other more powerful together. If we want to.