The Limits of Power

Last night I was reading Thomas Friedman’s book From Beirut to Jerusalem.

I’ve been gradually increasing my knowledge of Middle Eastern history and his book was recommended to me. I take it in small doses. History can be very painful and my mind needs time to work its way through the events and issues.

Last night I came across the following line.

“People who have never really wielded power always have illusions about how much those who have power can really do.”

I looked at it for a long time. Continued reading and then came back to it again. This morning I found it in my head wandering around and drawing attention to itself.

What can power really do?

Our Founding Fathers in an attempt to limit power created our system to spread power over multiple groups with different tasks, responsibilities, and authority.

This morning I was listening to NPR’s Morning Edition and there was a report concerning President Obama and the status of his campaign promises. It wasn’t a bad showing but there were many things promised that he may not be able to deliver. After all there are many things that the President can do but many more he can’t. He can influence change but he can’t effect the change himself.

There is no political magic wand that he can wave that will make things happen.

We forget, or we don’t want to acknowledge, how complicated the world is. If we admit the complexity then we don’t have anyone to blame because often it isn’t a failure of an individual but a part of the process. Notice I didn’t say a failure of the process but a part of it.

That would be another thing our Founding Fathers did. They made change hard.

Change, even positive change, is disruptive and stability is created by continuity with the ability to navigate, abet slowly, the waters of the future. We talk, we argue, we compromise, and slowly we move forward.

As we come to the end of President Obama’s first year in office think for a moment about the complexity of the issues the country and the world are facing. Step back and look, not with eyes filled with black and white, but with all the colors and shadings that actually make up the world and remember this.         

“People who have never really wielded power always have illusions about how much those who have power can really do.”

~ Tess Anderson


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