The Shape of Power

And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority  …  (Luke 9:1)

Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?   (1 Corinthians 5:6)

The shape of power is always the same: it is infinite, it is complex, it is forever branching. While it is alive like a tree, it is growing; while it contains itself, it is a multitude. Its directions are unpredictable; it obeys its own laws.

No one can observe the acorn and extrapolate each vein in each leaf of the oak crown. The closer you look, the more various it becomes. However complex you think it is, it is more complex than that.  (Naomi Alderman, The Power, Kindle Location 4686-4689)

When reading a book, I often appreciate the author’s choice of words in describing something.  Power is a human concept, but has meaning only in the fact that we are relational beings living in a world that is always changing.  Power is not a branch in a tree but the branching of the tree – growing, extending, reaching out.  We cannot always predict what power will do in a group, in a nation, among a people.  It is a force that causes interactions, the results of which are not completely predictable. Like electrons crashing into each other, we cannot know their location, speed and direction at the same time.  Power moves just like that, transferring its energies in unpredictable ways, and yet its shape is recognizable.

2 thoughts on “The Shape of Power

  1. Re Power: Good points. A friend of mine and I used to speak of the distinctions between power and authority. I don’t recall that we got any where definitive, but it does seem authority is more humane, or leans that way, than simply having power.
    Just a thought.

    1. Fr. Ted

      I remember a story which I believe was told of one of the kings of England (but I no longer remember which, so I’ll say it was George). When he was still a young prince he was being particularly feisty with his tutor, not wanting to do what he was told, he sassed, “I’m going to be King of England, so I can do whatever I want.” His tutor replied, “It is precisely because you will be King of England that you must never do what you want.” For a person with power to be great, they have to learn self-control and self-constraint in order to wield power to good effect. One might have great power and thus be capable of wreaking havoc due to one’s whims. But one has to learn the limits of one’s authority – though one might have power to do many things, one has to understand authority and how to use it properly and for the good. We have the power but not the authority to do evil.

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