Musings on the Nature of Power

Gonna have something rare on Lost to the Aether today.  I’m going to get real with you.  Going to talk about life stuff.  You know, reality?  That place where you keep all your video games and booze?

About half a year ago, I moved, in response to a new job.  You might remember that time.  That was when I stopped posting here but for once every few weeks and you spent like three months completely depressed for reasons not entirely unrelated.  Anyways, I’ve spewed up a few words about my old job, my past as a small business genius-for-loan, but not anything about my new position.  But I’m in the mood to muse, so let’s deal with that right now.

So, without getting into too much detail, I’m a case manager working within the welfare system to help people become more self-sustaining.  It has a lot of the hallmarks of the typical government job; having to pull out incredible amounts of work with very few resources, the constant uncertainty if funding or laws or just the people making decisions are going to shift somehow and end my job, and dealing with a clientele who varies drastically in capability, mood, and willingness to work with me, but who all need my help nonetheless.  It is both a very stressful and very fulfilling position.  And it gives me something that super villains and assholes spend all their lives trying to get.  Power.

In short, I work with people going through some of the worst parts of their lives, being driven down far enough that they need government help to keep going.  In order to get that help, they need to work with me in order to improve their lives, doing the activities that I, in my discretion, set for them.  If they don’t work with me on that, or if they don’t do what I’ve set out for them, their month is pretty well ruined because they don’t get their support.

It gives me a great deal of control over their lives.  I force people to get better, and although most everyone may agree with the end goals, not many enjoy that it’s imposed on them.  And all this was handed to me.  Me.  When I was still completely green to this type of work.

That used to terrify me.  I was not entirely expecting this degree of control when I was starting up the job.  Which might be one of the things that makes me a good choice for the position, as far as my supervisors were concerned.  Too many people appreciate the power.  Look for the power.  Hell, just take a look at the presidential race right now.  Or all those people going through the job search insisting on some sort of high level position without first building their experience up in the industry’s operations.  Or, well, so many people who go into specific types of government work.  That specific sort of social capital, that’s something that draws a whole lot of people.  But it’s so easily misused, especially when it’s the power itself that attracts someone rather than the purpose for which the power is granted.  The type of people who like that power over others too often become analogous with a good old comic book/video game villain.

And even when it is used properly, it can still be a fearsome thing.  The Spider-man adage is very true, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’.  In my case, if I’m not on point, it’s really my clients who pay for it.  If I don’t properly assess their situation, they may have a much harder time than they should as I didn’t properly match their activities to what they need and what they can do.  If I fall behind on the administrative side of things, my clients don’t get the resources that they need.  And even if I’m doing everything right, oftentimes, if I’m not pushing the rest of the team handling other aspects of their case, they’re still negatively impacted.  It puts a lot of pressure on the use of that power.

Even so, I’ve learned that the power does need to be used.  It needs to be used carefully, selectively, but there is a reason for it being there, and it does have to used for that purpose.  I try to be pretty flexible with my clients, but I’ve definitely found that with too much flexibility, getting too light on their requirements, and they tend not to graduate from the program.  It’s easier on them, for sure, but when that power is not exercised, they don’t see results.  They don’t get the overall life improvements the other clients get.  They may not like me setting the more involved activities, but if I don’t do that, I’m really failing to help them.

Of course, it’d be a little too easy for one to fall into the supervillain use of power.  In my case, if I just started using this power to do what’s easiest or most optimal for me, I’d still be well within the intentions of the program, but I really wouldn’t be serving my clients well.  But no.  What I’ve found power, at least the power I wield, really needs is just a focus on the overall goal.  The power is not for my purpose, it’s not to make my working day easier, it’s really to be used for the benefit of the people I have this power over, to make sure that they’re able to build these improvements into their own lives.  How that looks can change drastically depending on the person, but it’s really that goal, that focus on aligning the means with the desired end, that really keeps that power useful, towards my client’s overall best interests.  That the goal is held above all else is really what keeps that power working.

Power for its own sake always ends horribly.  History has taught us that again and again, and fiction’s been doing a good job of picking up the slack in the meantime.  That’s why you want to be very, very wary of anyone who wants that power.  But that same power wielded towards the higher goal is what can really make those great positive changes in our world.  So long as that goal is absolute.

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One response to “Musings on the Nature of Power

  1. Power corrupts. Years from now I expect how this job started Aether on the road to becoming the dictatorial ruler of a small island nation 🙂

    Keep up the good work. With my personality I doubt I could handle a job with so much pressure and responsibility.

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