The Power to Empower

Power is the only thing humans crave. Sex is just momentary bliss, enjoyable again and again, but never lasting too long. It has been analysed physiologically, psychologically and a million other-logically, but it has none of the charms of power - power over others. That stays.

Which is why men seek to become kings and dictators. Which is why the housewife fights with the servants and vegetable-vendors. Why bosses scream. There is no greater thrill than seeing others cowering or otherwise cringing in front of you. No one has been immune to this thrill. Even the Christ or Buddha must have felt a thrill to see his disciples take his every word as gospel. Gandhi would never concede space to Bose or Ambedkar. Power corrupts. It mayn't show, but it corrupts.

The best power to have is the power to say, "now I give you this power". The power to empower. Unless one has felt it, one cannot narrate what thrill it gives. (Which is why I'm narrating this right now.) When you can delegate, it means you have something to delegate - the pleasure of possession, and the pleasure of discretion. It means the other is not your equal or superior - he derives his power from you. You feel like God.

Now let's begin my blogpost. Three examples first.

One, Juan Carlos, king of Spain. He gained power as the heir of the fascist dictator Francisco Franco, becoming absolute monarch of Spain. Yet he chose to bring a constitutional monarchy, ceding all executive power to an elected prime minister. He fought off his army which did not want democracy, an act which led to everyone including Communist republicans declare their loyalty to him. He has worked with right-wing and left-wing prime ministers, who have consistently decided what happens to Spain without interference from him. Most famously, he asked Hugo Chavez to shut up when he criticised a former prime minister of Spain. Juan Carlos successfully brought Spain into the modern era, empowering an entire nation.

The other is The King of Bhutan, who has been doing a Juan Carlos on his own people. He is also the originator of the notion of Gross National Happiness as a measure of how a country is doing. Here again, he is conceding his powers to the people, who were anyway content to have him as absolute monarch. Unless such a move made one happy, there is no incentive to do so.

The third is that very colourful and interesting man, Olusegun Obasanjo. He's had this unique thrill twice. First, when he became dictator of Nigeria, after the previous one, Murtala Mohammed had died in a failed coup. With absolute power, and with an incredible lack of interest in it, he had the Nigerians write a proper constitution and elect a new civilian president. (That the chap, Shehu Shagari, proved incompetent and was thrown out in a coup is another story, and when he protested, Obasanjo landed in jail.) He was the first military dictator ever to go willingly.

His second chance was when he was elected as a civilian president of Nigeria two decades later. He served two terms, and when parliament refused to allow him a third, stepped down at the end of his term. It was a rare moment that an elected man had given way to another elected man in the history of Nigeria, and indeed of that of many countries. In India, we probably fail to recognise the importance of this, but look at our neighbourhood. Again Obasanjo had the thrill of saying, — Look I tried and failed, so I handed over power, I went civilly. I can take the moral high ground, and harangue other African leaders now to follow my example.

So now my case. I had the unique opportunity of handing over a project I was doing to a younger person, and I did so because I felt he was better able to do so. The thrill on his face at being given both the power and responsibility was a million-dollar moment, and triggered a thrill within me too. He began criticising the old way of things, pouring out his own suggestions, and I had to rein in his exuberance by asking him to commit everything to paper and think the matter through.

Giving up the silly need to have control over everything and recognising that the greater good must be accounted for, is some whopper of a thrill. It sure beats sex, and beats absolute power into the middle of next week. And yes, there is that funny feeling of being God.


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