In Power, or Adversity, We Find Ourselves

By Shannon Burns. Shannon, 18, is a high school student about to attend university. She lives in Melbourne, Australia. Please read her article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

We look to our leaders, and we must hope that they are able to bear the responsibility that comes with our tendency to follow.

In the modern day, power exists in many forms. No longer restricted to Kings, Queens, Emperors, and Empresses, power now is held in the soft and delicate hands of ordinary people, under extraordinary circumstances.

So who are our figures of power? And what control do they hold over us, as a community?

Power exists not as an isolated concept. What is power, if we are they who define it, and if it is we who have the first form of it, that decides who wears it the heaviest? The community controls power, to whom it falls, and, to some extent, in what fashion it is used. We vote on election days for our leaders, who we know we will look to in times of crisis, and who we are aware will have the power to make or break us, but only because we have decided that they ought to.

We read books and magazines, and attend concerts and films, and in doing so, we offer power to our favourite actors, musicians, artists, authors, models, and more. We decide who sits at the head of our society. We control that which will control us.

But what is power to those to whom it is attributed? Does it exist primarily as a construct they think little of? Do they realise the magnitude of their control? Do they feel its weight upon them, or do they brush it off as unimportant?

Tabloids and gossip magazines are quick to emphasise the power held by celebrities. She wore that, and now all of the little girls in the schoolyards are begging their mothers to let them wear it too. He bought that, so the little boys think it’s the best thing in the world. We live under a celebrity influence, and we must acknowledge the use to which they put our subscription to their every move.

Celebrity and fame exist as an industry. If our favourite actress stars in a film, we are more likely to pay for tickets to see it. If a company endorses a band to advertise their product, we are more likely to assume its decency, and empty our pockets to purchase it. Power, among celebrities, is the ability to alter the way in which we live our lives, the phrases we say, the clothes we wear, and the media we choose to consume. Power, in this case, is subtle, yet strong, and undeniably effective.

So too, we have a formal type of power that rules us, stemming from our governments, and our national leaders. Do they always use it well? No. Sometimes, our leaders impose taxes we cannot afford, cut aid that is irrefutably necessary, and backtrack on the promises that had us believing they were worthy of the power we bequeathed them in the first place. Here, power is multi-facetted, and clear to us as a society, and we accept it, sometimes begrudgingly when it is turned as a tool against us.

Most of us will never experience true power, and perhaps this is for the best, as too many of us would use it wrongly. Much more likely, is that we will face adversity. Adversity comes in many forms; we may struggle against a health issue, find ourselves in financial distress, become involved in a difficult family situation, or experience a natural disaster.

When adversity presents itself, the best and worst ends of the spectrum of humanity become apparent. We watch as the looters take advantage of fear and crisis in the aftermath of a tsunami, and at the same time, we keep our eye on the rescuer who wades through treacherous flood waters to carry a child to safety.

Rightly, we call those who rise to adversity our heroes. But adversity is a very different experience than that of power. Adversity usually arises quickly, and suddenly, without too much time for over contemplation. Adversity is forced unwittingly upon us, and we react as if on autopilot to a situation we have not anticipated. On the other hand, power is usually fought for, strived towards, and clearly thought through by those who hold it. Power involves a want for it, and not the instinctual reaction we employ when facing adversity, but carefully considered behaviour.

There is an argument for adversity as the truer revealer of our character, and of our core. When we are given a choice, and make it without thinking, and when we are presented with a circumstance we cannot have asked for, we show how we respond when left untouched by ulterior motives. In adversity, we find ourselves. In adversity, we know whether we are the parent who can sit by a hospital bed unyieldingly, or the stranger who can rescue a child from a fire. In adversity, we become the best, or the worst, but ultimately the most key, integral, and honest versions of ourselves. In adversity we know ourselves much better, and more closely, than those who do not face it ever will.

But in power, we know who we are when given the time to consider, and when more of our thoughts, ideals, wants, and goals can come into play. Perhaps we use our power for good, for positive change, for helping people, but ultimately, when given the time to think, to plan, to anticipate, we are much more likely to behave in such a way that is self-serving, self-centred, and too filtered to create complete and unadulterated honesty.

We are who we show ourselves to be in adversity, for better or for worse. However, we must not ignore those facets of ourselves that can only be revealed by power, and the manner in which we choose to use it.

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