Why power corrupts

What is it about power and authority that corrupts just about every person in a leadership position? In the last week, former California governor Arnold ‘Sch-whatever’ and IMF chief Strauss-Kahn have been caught out for their sexual misadventures. In Africa and the Middle East, power drunk tyrants oppress their own people, defying international outrage and sanctions. In just about every continent, politicians spend more time untangling themselves from legal troubles pertaining to bribery and other corruption charges, than working on whatever they got elected for.

This extends to sports and sporting bodies as well. Just take cricket, for instance. In Pakistan, a bumbling cricket administrator keeps changing captains and flouting conspiracy theories at the drop of a hat. Sri Lanka, West Indies and South Africa have innumerable issues with their administrators. The less said about Zimbabwe, the better. For all his business acumen and commercial talent, Lalit Modi’s ego had become so big, that he had to kicked off from the venture that he himself had made successful. In the past few weeks, a previously little-known-of administrator of a state cricket association in India filled with too much self importance, felt that he could go toe to toe with a legend of the game, coming out of the whole fracas, the smaller man. Captains and coaches are not impervious to this, either. Kevin Pietersen, Greg Chappell, Hansie Cronje are some of the people who failed to handle their positions appropriately, and whose misuse of authority led to their shameful exits.

This brings us back to the question I raised at the start of the post. Dr Ronald Riggio, a psychologist tries to explain this by stating that there are two types of power – socialized and personalized power. Power used to benefit others falls in the previous category, and the power for personal gain falls under the latter category. Politicians and rulers are expected to use socialized power, but most of them invariably fall prey to personalized power. A position of authority automatically confers the individual a sense of self importance and idea that he can get away with anything, just because he can. Try as he might, a person who becomes a leader of men, with good intentions will almost always come to a point where he has to choose between using his power for the good of others, or just for himself. Sadly, most will choose the latter.

So, there is no point in railing against our leaders or other men in powerful positions. I know many men who like to mock Tiger Woods or Bill Clinton for their sexual indiscretions, but who when put in a similar position of wealth and power, would do the same thing. What I’m trying to say is, that it is human nature. We are imperfect beings and while we expect our leaders to be better versions of ourselves, we’ll just have to accept that it will never be the case. We might get lucky with a few individuals who can overcome the intoxicating aroma of power abuse, but more often than not, we’ll have to put up with idiots like Gaddafi, Kim Kong Il and Ijaz Butt.

So, the next time you want to rail against a dictator, an inefficient sporting body or Andrew Hilditch, just remember that even if they exit, their places could be taken up by other morons who are much worse. The only thing to be done in such situations is, to be better people ourselves and try to influence outcomes which are under our control. And for those not under our control, perhaps say a silent prayer for those in charge and hope they see the follies of their ways and set things right.

On that cheerful note, have a great week-end!

PS: Just a couple of days after the post, I came across this article on Time…have a look.

7 comments

  1. I suppose people just wind up convincing themselves that decisions based on personalised power are actually more altruistic than that and based on socialised power. Politicians probably do that automatically.

    1. True…now that you mention it, thats how US presidential candidate Newt Gingrich tried to justify cheating on his 2nd wife with the 3rd one….he said that his passion for the country led him to have affairs…how does that even make sense??

      1. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s an excellent example of how people will justify their own behaviour to themselves and others though.

  2. can’t think of too many corrupt things that kp, greg chappell, arnie, dsk or tiger woods have ever done. poor taste? sure, poor judgment? of course, selfish behaviour? absolutely. none of these equate to corrupt in my opinion.

    gaddafi, kim jong and hansie on the other hand are/were extremely dodgy.

    1. I was not just talking about corruption….when people get into positions of power or authority, most of them lapse into deviant behavior, which they might not do normally…corruption is part of a list that includes loose morals, narcissism, megalomania etc….I guess I was not too clear on that point…

  3. Great article Tracer, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a cross section of names in the Tags section of an article on a cricket blog before.

    The phrase ‘be careful what you wish for’ springs to mind.

    Gadaffi and Ijaz Butt in the same sentence, lol.

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