Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Inflated sense of self

I remember back in high school learning about the phrases, "might makes right" and "power corrupts." I grasped fairly easily the first one, I mean the history books are written by the winners. The second one I always felt skeptical about. And even as we saw some examples of this, I thought surely there are people who, once they found themselves in power, did not succomb to the temptation for corruption. And in my mind, I decided that power only corrupts if you let it. And when I have been in positions of power, either as manager or landlord, I have remained true to my inner belief that every one is just trying to do their best with what they have. And that everyone deserves a minimum of respect. Maybe that makes me stupid.

Now, as I look at all my students and classes I've given over the past five years, I see that power does indeed change people. In fact, the higher the position the person holds, the less likely they are to come to class, do homework and learn from the process. Maybe it's because they have built in respect (being the boss and all) at work and coming to class means giving over the reins of power to me, if only for a couple hours. When you learn a new language, you have to be willing to subject yourself to a certain degree of humiliation, since your worth is measured more by your ability to digest and use new information than it is by your title. Department heads are the worst, and they often show frustration when I point out their errors. (I point them out so they can learn from them!) Usually after two or three classes, they stop coming, refusing to better themselves. (Hey, they're already power brokers, they don't need no stinking pipsqueak teachers.) Give me a class of underlings any day.

So now, sadly, I have to agree, that power does seem to corrupt. It corrupts ones personality.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

A 6' 3" pipsqueak?? My... aren't you modest about your size :p

Anonymous said...

Your observation is right on, as per usual. I think it is relative (as you suggest). None of us want to be "taught" by someone "beneath" us. I have run into this dynamic among people at nearly every turn in my life, and, yes, sadly, I admit to reacting in a similar fashion sometimes. I hope that most of the time I have caught myself and opened myself to be "taught", but I know it has not been totally true.

JoeL said...

And you, in the classroom, you are the one with power. Are you corrupt?

I don't think so.

But I know what you mean.

A lot of people don't know how to manage it.

And I don't think they're afraid of you. More the fact that the little guy in the same office is sitting next to them. They're equals. That's what bothers them.

The Lone Rangers said...

Power does corrupt, it's one of the few givens in life. Alot of those in power positions don't see that they can learn from someone who is not in their "status bracket"...it's a sad fact.

Spider said...

As a corporate educator - give me a class of "underlings" any day... they actually want to learn something rather than come to class and show you what THEY know... my favorite classes to teach are "Intro Computer" classes - staff members who have never set foot in front of a computer - they have so much fun and get so much out of it...

Ed said...

I am still surprised that in Montreal there are people who don't know English. It is near the USA. I guess we are arrogant in thinking everyone would jump at the chance to learn our superior language. We are so pompous! It is a good thing that you are there to teach those who want to learn. Unlike many of us, you are a beautiful American.

CoffeeDog said...

I think you are right - that the higer ups don't have the humility to learn new things because they cannot stand being wrong. For me, taking tests, etc is a way for me to learn what I don't know. Ugh, my french final is next week, better get crackin'

St. Dickeybird said...

That's it - I'm telling my boss he's a prick. And not because I want to, but because I don't want his power to corrupt. I'll make him a better man by demeaning him!
Thanks Tornwordo!

I wish...
:)

Kevin said...

Maybe you're just so intimidating ...

Anonymous said...

Well said and so true. People forget where they come from. We're all just cells and tissue.

dirk.mancuso said...

I have a habit of making off-handed comments to my boss about stupid things at work I know he is responsible for (but which he would never admit to). "Whoever did that, should have their ass kicked. Total waste of time and payroll..." It's so much fun to watch him mumble in agreement.

I love being a bitch.

Timmy said...

I do the same that dirk does. It is hilarious!

GayProf said...

I can't say about teaching established professionals since all of my students usually fall within in the 18-24 age bracket.

With classrooms, though, there seems to be a general trend towards entitlement. I showed up, now I deserve an "A." After years of being told that each person is "special" in grammar schools, they are shocked to find out the truth. One has to actually do something to distinguish oneself. Language classes must be the most obvious case of this. Either you know your vocabulary and grammar or you don't.

Em said...

That's why wisdom is such an important quality if you have power. Looks to me like wisdom is in short supply tho. Perhaps we should find some way to sell it. Change the world, make a fortune!

Patricia said...

the whole loose term of "power" can mean so many things. as can the general term "corrupt". look at celebrities. some (naturally, mostly the ones we hear about) have lost such touch with reality that their behavior goes beyond anything we can comprehend. it's sad how many people think they truly are better than others, based on where a decimal point lands or what club doors open to them.

madamerouge said...

On Sunday's 60 Minutes, the CEO of Netflix was interviewed. He seemed to not fit the description of your standard CEO, and was the first to point out his own flaws. I found him attractive in all sorts of ways because of that.

kev said...

You are profundity personified, tornwordo! I do not think power is inherently corrupt, just corruptible. The sun is powerful, but is not able to be corrupted (yet).

Humans are certainly fragile beings, unduely influenced by the charms and illusions of power. Not definitive though...and IMHO, inversely associated with the authorities ability to listen and be humble.

Freak Magnet said...

Now you're making me feel guilty that I didn't do all of my homework. (:-(

Daniel, the Guy in the Desert said...

It does corrupt, to some extent. It has it's most negative influence when the power bearer exercises no self examination whatsoever, which, somewhat sadly, is all too often the case. Interesting in Em,s comment, she uses an economic analogy. In her model, change is what's left over from the exchange, not the principal. Perhaps if, in the social realm the focus were placed on the dynamic aspect (the influence for change), instead of the static (the maintenance of authority),
there would be more openness of receiving from one another, and less conflict as a result.

Daniel, the Guy in the Desert said...

after all, learning is all about change. The more fundamental the learning, the more profound the change. I still firmly believe that if I truly learn something, it will change the way I live.

Daniel, the Guy in the Desert said...

Anything that doesn't produce change isn't learning, it's merely remembering.
There, I'm done now.
I hope you have a wonderful day luv.

Enemy of the Republic said...

Unfortunately, I agree and I too, teach. I would like to really say more, but maybe I will do my own blog and with your permission, quote some of your observations.