“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”


John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton
John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The quote which you undoubtedly know by now (or at least the first sentence of it), is by Lord Acton, who created it more than a century ago. Observation alone has proven this very idea true, but recently there have been plenty studies that have also confirmed it.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. Let’s first identify the five main types of power, because as it turns out, there isn’t just one:

Coercive power: the power one has to correct wrongdoings by penalizing.

Reward power: the power to award an individual’s good deed.

Legitimate power: the power given by someone with a higher position.

Expert power: the power that comes from knowledge.

Referent power: the power one has when he or she is admired.

(For descriptions and examples of types of power, be sure to check this article)

It is, no doubt, interesting to see these five kinds interacting in the real world, and important to note that the more types of power one holds, the better he or she feels. Indeed, power feels good. It has the same effect on people as the use of cocaine. However, the qualifying factor is the last on the list of five. When a person is admired, not only it is accepted into society, but it is also rewarded with the opinion that it deserves any other kind of power it may hold. When someone is not respected by peers, he or she tends to be pushed away from its group, and is thus never given the chance to hold other types of power.

The problem arises after one gains power, because of the effect described by Lord Acton. Interestingly enough, it seems that this effect only on occurs with those individuals who feel they deserve it. It isn’t very clear why this happens, but part of the reason is that those in power are often of the opinion that they have more rights. Perhaps they are not saying it out loud, but they most certainly act in agreement with this idea. Another factor that comes to play is that those in power are out of touch with the individuals around them, which makes them fall prey to a shortage of empathy. Thus, they start thinking less and less in terms of the Golden Rule, and more in terms of their individualistic well-being.

Do not misinterpret my words; I do not think that taking care of oneself is a bad thing. Quite the opposite.  However, I don’t believe that taking care of oneself should come as a result of harming others (obviously, this is a simple way of putting it, and there are many factors that would need to be considered before applying a generalization to real life).

So there you have it! People usually rise to power if they are liked by others, but once they get there, they tend to fall prey to hypocrisy. Do you have any stories regarding power? If so, please share them, I’d love to hear what you have to say 🙂

PS: Here are two more sources I’ve used in this article: