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May10TueThe dramatic fall of dictators around the world can cause us to question our own relationship with authority. May 10, 2011 by Dani Shaw
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- Opinion & Critical Thought
Recent events in Northern Africa and the Middle East remind me of the adage originally penned by Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Where power remains unchecked, terrible abuses of human, political and civil rights can occur.
Remarkably, several of these nations are experiencing a rebalance of power as citizens demand political reform and the international community considers coming to their aid.
Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country in early January after street protests called for his resignation. President Ben Ali had been in power for 23 years. On February 2, Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced that he will not seek re-election in 2013. Days later, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down after a 30-year reign. Several straight days of internal political protest and international pressure led President Mubarak to hand over power to the military. In each case, political change occurred with minimal violence. Once-powerful autocrats realized they were powerless in the face of people who no longer respected their authority.
Compare this with the ongoing situation in Libya where, at the time of writing, Colonel Moammar Gadhafi clings to his 42-year reign. Gadhafi, described by some as a megalomaniac, has vowed to “fight to the death” and used military strikes against his own people in an effort to shut down widespread protests calling for his resignation. A ruler who has historically brainwashed school children, silenced all opposition and expelled foreigners is now subject to growing international sanctions as advanced democracies around the world call for him to step down.
As a Canadian, I watch the news in fascination as country by country, city by city, citizens gather to speak truth to power, daring to confront what in some cases have been highly oppressive regimes. Many proclaim a willingness to die for freedom, thinking not just of themselves, but of their fellow citizens and future generations. They vow to remain on the streets, day after day and night after night, until their political leaders and oppressors heed their cries.
As I watch events unfold from the comfort of my living room, I ask myself: Would I speak out against an abuse of power within my own country? What about in my workplace or my church? Would I be willing to make personal sacrifices to confront the misuse of power? Or would I sit idly by, allowing our political, business or religious leaders to use their power for personal or ill gain?
The Army's International Positional Statement on the Use of Power defines power as “possession of command, control or influence over others.” It points out that power should be used, not for manipulation or exploitation, but to promote love, justice and mutual respect. Power, when appropriately checked and exercised in humility, can be used to achieve some of the greatest goods.
Many of us possess power without realizing it. As a senior manager of employee relations, I can influence other managers in the way they handle difficult workplace situations. I can recommend that they show compassion and mercy or that they take a hard line with intransigent employees. As a boss, I have the power to hire and fire my team, to grant or deny them pay raises and bonuses, and to offer them learning opportunities. As a consumer, I can influence a company's business decisions by choosing to buy or not to buy their products. With such power comes great responsibility. I must ask myself: Does the advice I give to my clients promote love, justice and mutual respect, or does it lead to the mistreatment, manipulation and exploitation of other employees? As I manage my own employees, do I treat them equitably, with dignity and respect, or do I show favouritism? When I purchase products and services, do I do so mindful of the impact my decisions have on others around the world?
The Salvation Army also possesses considerable power. Our positional statement commits the Army to seeking opportunities to bring relief to the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed, to empower the powerless, and to improve the lives of those who would otherwise remain neglected, isolated and unaware of the love of God. It commits us not just to social service, political action or evangelism in isolation, but to a holistic approach, to exercise whatever power we have toward the promotion of the common good.
Dani Shaw is a lawyer, a former political advisor to the Prime Minister and the federal Minister of Health, and a long-standing member/observer of The Salvation Army's Social Issues Committee. She has been blessed by a strong relationship with her Scottish grandmother who has taught her a thing or two about the power of compassion, conviction and influence.