Why Power Corrupts Us

Written by: N.S. Palmer | Posted on: | Category:

Power tends to corrupt us. So do privilege and status.

Of course, we like to believe that it happens only to other people. We could never be corrupted by power and privilege. We are too good for that.

Unfortunately, however, we're not too good for that. Almost anyone can be corrupted.

But did you ever think about why it's true?

Like many truths about life, the answer is hiding in plain sight.

When we want something, we feel our emotion directly. It's vivid and real to us. The same applies when we're happy or hurt.

But when someone else wants something, is happy or hurt, we don't feel their emotion directly. We might know about it, but only abstractly. It doesn't seem real to us.

As a result, we're biased in favor of what we know for sure: i.e., what we want. As for the happiness of other people, we carelessly ignore what doesn't seem real.

Similarly, when good things happen to us, we assume it's because of our own efforts. When bad things happen to us, we assume it's because of bad luck or unfairness. We know first-hand how hard we've worked and how many obstacles we had to overcome. We ignore the advantages and opened doors that helped us to do it.

When good things happen to other people, they were lucky. When bad things happen to them, it's because they didn't work hard or because they were bad people. We never see the disadvantages and closed doors that thwarted their efforts. Maybe they could have achieved just as much we did, or maybe not: we'll never know.

There's no way to make life completely fair. We can make it fair-er, but social perfection is out of our reach.

We all come into this world with advantages and disadvantages. As our lives progress, we get some lucky breaks and some unlucky ones.

As a general principle, that's true of everyone. It's not something we can control.

What we can control is what we do about it:

  • We can face life with courage and serenity.
  • We can look for the good in every situation.
  • We can work hard, but accept that we won't always win.
  • We can remember that other people's happiness counts.
  • We can trust in the essential goodness of the universe.

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