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The way we think is both our greatest tool - indeed our only tool - and very often it is also our biggest leash. We are only who we think we are. Our opportunities are also limited by who other people think we are. It stands to reason that if we’d like to change who we are, we must start with an effort to change our thinking. Read more here
March 13th, 2019
The words ‘power’ and ‘entitlement’ have entered into a strange dance that is undoing each as useful concepts that we can use in order to think and communicate effectively.
Often the connotation of a word bloats and metastasizes in directions of meaning that can eventually be totally at odds with their actual definition, and sometimes, this connotative expansion then takes over the actual definition.
An easy example is the pair of words: Awful & Awesome. They both grew from the root word of ‘awe’, but they polarized around the phenomenon of feeling a sense of awe. The word awful went down the negative route and the word awesome went down the positive route.
The words Power and Entitlement are not as closely paired but their usage in relation to one another is causing some unhealthy growth in meaning. This is occurring by an increasing expansion into an abstract arena and a dearth of tying concrete realities to these words.
We can investigate this quite literally with an initial question of what exactly is power?
Machiavelli might have a treatise on the subject, but the scientific lens of physics provides a far more useful and clean answer:
Power = Work / Time.
Power is quite literally how much work gets done as a result of one’s hopes dreams and wishes during a given interval of time. If a person has a lot of money then tasks can be outsourced and since it’s fair to say that a lot of work is being accomplished in relatively little time with that wealthy individual’s thoughts, hopes and dreams as a blueprint, such a person can be literally described as powerful. It doesn’t matter if the outsourced task is the transport of champagne from a bottle behind a bar down a walkway to the beach where someone has paid for the service, of if rockets are being built in accordance to that beach goer’s design and direction.
This fungible nature of money enables this phenomenon of outsourcing and ultimately stands in for trust when it comes to cooperation with strangers. If, however we ask a good friend for some help and then offer money in exchange for that help, we risk offending the trust that has been built through the growth of such friendship. Indeed, it can even imply a lack of trust, whereas the limits of time, circumstance and memory force us to interact with strangers all the time to get things both large and small done. Given these constraints, the development of organic trust has no viable environment and so money stands in as the mechanism that enables strangers to cooperate. Huge numbers of people can be brought together through the direction of this money resource, and as the old maxim follows: there is power in numbers, there is quite literally power in money because money can bring together people and have them each work in a coordinated way towards some unified cooperative end.
We need only look at the similarity between words like corporation and cooperative to see how this one-way street is looked at in two different ways.
The uncomfortable truth that people do not like to look square in the face is that power enables entitlement. If you can muster the resources to make some unit of work happen, then such an accomplished item forms the substance of such entitlement. In today’s cultural parlance, it’s not hard to imagine such a statement landing with a great deal of discomfort. But, we need only get even more literal with our words to see how they interact through reality. Example:
The heavyweight champion of the world cannot hold that title unless it’s been earned, and such a title is earned quite literally through a physical expression of power generated by muscles and directed in accordance to the goals of the mind in question. Some pipsqueak standing on a street corner claiming to be entitled to the title of heavy weight champion is ignored for laughably obvious reasons.
And yet when entitlement is claimed in other, less physically obvious domains, the squawking claims often land with some strange force of legitimacy. The parallel juxtaposition calls into question this legitimacy and frames it almost as a kind of lunacy. This is intended to be uncomfortable. People who claim entitlement without the power to generate the work required to claim such entitlement are quite literally suffering from a conceptual disconnect. This disconnect is the word entitlement itself which has broken loose from it’s anchor in day-to-day reality and has drifted off into a land that is more and more simply imagined. The discomfort of this conceptual disconnect serves an important and often misused purpose in the minds of those who feel such discomfort.
Such people often feel powerless but entitled. This is akin to someone who thinks they can do a physical feat that they have not trained for. Attempting such is only going to cause physical pain and possibly damage. In less physical domains, it causes emotional pain.
A person who feels such emotional pain and discomfort might simply default in frustration to a conclusion that things just aren’t fair. But this is swinging the pendulum in the absolute opposite direction. Claiming things aren’t fair is a complete slap in the face to the tiny amount of power any one person has independent of wealth and other people. The conclusion things aren’t fair is actually a different subject revolving around justice and fairness. Such a diversion is counter-productively leapfrogging a person’s actual real power, however small, and ignoring any potential use it may be applied to for benefit.
The conclusion ‘things aren’t fair’ turns a person with a tiny amount of power into a totally helpless person.
It’s best to ignore questions of fairness altogether. Such discussion is not helpful to the individual looking to change themselves and their life. Such questions of Justice and Fairness are better left to governing bodies, and if a person is not willing to dive into that swimming pool, then such concepts are more likely to paralyze a person’s mentality rather than enable it for beneficial use.
It’s best to examine and concentrate on the very real power any given individual actually has. Short of being totally disabled, catatonic, and requiring complete care from other human beings, there is always something we can do. For example, a person who has been able to read this far into the article and has been able to follow along both conceptually and emotionally must be fit with an intellect and a command of language that has some degree of power. A power that could be leveraged into more power if such a resource is applied, properly.
We can easily call to mind the somewhat malicious relationship between the rich and the poor. The rich stereotypically think the poor are lazy and the poor stereotypically think the rich are thieves. Meanwhile the rich feel that their entitlement, and power is well earned and the poor feel powerless yet entitled. This is an age-old story, one that is in dire need of fresh air and sunlight to kill off all the mold it’s fostered.
As briefly explored above, money is a conceptual mechanism that enables cooperation. This age-old story of friction between rich and poor is in many ways a hint at inefficiencies in the way money moves and pools, and this could be labelled quite simply as a mass failure of cooperation. What other label than ‘failure of cooperation’ could be more appropriate when a country’s currency becomes worthless and society starts to dissolve into less desirable forms? Regardless of how economists and politicians might spin this rotten top, at it’s most basic form, something about the way people cooperate in order to live together has given out in a disastrous way.
People who feel powerless but can understand such concepts here presented might need to confront the power inherent in such intellectual prowess. As opposed to belittling the use of such conceptual power by merely complaining or squawking about unfairness, both of which degrade the cooperation that we so desperately need, perhaps such conceptual, linguistic and intellectual power could be put to better use in order to find a way to open up a productive dialogue between different pools of cooperation. Indeed what exactly is venture capital if not a risk on the part of powerful people to cooperate with people who have good ideas but lack the financial power to implement such ideas on their own? Relative to the venture capitalists who dole out the money, the startup founder is essentially the poor person with the good idea.
We can thread an arrow through this entire line of axes and imagine a relatively unentitled person with minimal power leveraging their small voice of intellectual power to generously and emotionally convince some powerful and entitled executive to see the future in a different way, and thereby initiate actions that change bad courses of action into more virtuous ones. Oil executives come to mind.
We can even see such a process occurring in ourselves on some level. When we grab for a chocolate donut and hear that tiny powerless voice in our head tell us that it’s not good for our health and that we shouldn’t eat it.
Just as the poor unrealistically view the rich as thieves who only got their wealth through tricks and hacks of the system, we might imagine a similar circumstance where a person yields wields power through intellectual, linguistic and interpersonal channels. Rasputin comes to mind as someone who was poor in the sense of money, but leveraged his tiny amount of intellectual power on a person-to-person basis in order to gain access to much larger swathes of power. Another example that comes to mind is Jeff Bezos’ recent splash across the news regarding a certain woman who by all reports seems to have Rasputinesque abilities with regards to persuasion.
Directing powerful and entitled people via emotionally persuasive discourse can be seen through two different polar lens, depending on our stance on the issues at hand. It can either be seen as manipulation that borders on gaslighting, or it can have the positive bent that so often evokes religious tones, as when someone finally ‘sees the light’.
Indeed, aren’t we constantly wishing for that tiny underdog voice in our own head urging us to be healthier to win the battle? Wouldn’t it be nice if that tiny voice advocating health suddenly developed the silver tongue of some linguistic seductress whose bidding we cannot stop doing? How healthy and effective would we grow with such a benevolent demon residing in our mind?
This discussion of power seeks to draw a connection between two levels: the first is the work we do in interpersonal relationships to build organic trust, and the second is how those connections can be leveraged to create larger forms of power that no longer require –indeed cannot handle interpersonal relationships- and function solely through the mechanism of money. We can think of a company that is started with a few trusted people and eventually grows into a large cooperation where the mechanism of money bears more of the burden of ensuring that someone can be trusted. These highlights of the word power are not terribly difficult to grasp, but they are important to reference in order to see how the word ‘entitlement’ has mutated in a way that is self-defeating for the individual and even iatrogenic.
The word ‘entitlement’ is in dire need of deflating back down into proportion with the power that is mustered behind such entitlement. This is not to say that people who seem unrealistically entitled should bite their tongue and mosey along. It’s to urge such people to recognize one’s real and actual power and recalibrate a sense of entitlement to reflect that power. Not only would this alleviate huge amounts of emotional pain, but it makes a person more effective. In simple terms it’s the same as saying: let’s work with what we’ve got, because currently we don’t have anything else to work with.
Using the power any given individual has to accomplish some feasible task entitles a person to the fruits of that accomplishment, and much of the discussion using the word ‘entitlement’ robs people of this kind of efficaciousness. Such small abilities to do work – if thoughtfully and cleverly directed – can be used to leverage such power into greater power, as is so often seen with those who manage to bootstrap a successful business, or even author a successful book. Regardless of other hacked and deceitful ways to gain power and influence, all roots of power ramify in reverse back to one central fact that is important for the person who feels powerless to realize:
Real power is not in money or the cooperation one can muster from strangers through money.
Real power is inevitably reduced to how a single person can effectively direct their own mind.