Thursday, August 08, 2013

Work and Power

As my sabbatical draws to a close, and I face the highly complex busyness of a new school year, I think about the relationship between work and power.  Already requests for my time and attention are starting to roll in.  I remind myself that this means I have power.

Remembering from my days of studying physics that these terms have precise scientific meanings within physics, I thought I would look them up again.

In physics, "energy" is the ability to do "work."  And "work" itself is the amount of energy transferred by a "force" acting through a distance.  (And "force," you will recall, is "mass" times "acceleration.")  "Power" is "work" divided by time. 

So, the more work you can do in a given time, the more power you wield?

We are taught to believe that people love and crave power, and that having lots of power is good.

But its goodness really depends on what you do with it.

If you do not have enough power to get your needs met, you are clearly at a severe disadvantage.  I do not begrudge those who crave power because they are not able to get their needs met.  They have good reason to desire power.

Nor do I begrudge those who use their power for good.

Why do I wince at the power, so to speak, that is thrust upon me by all of the demands on my time and attention?  Should I not be pleased to be so valued and entrusted?

To some extent I am, and I take my responsibility here seriously, and try to put my efforts to good use.  I think the problem here is that the things I am asked to do do not always line up with what I most want to do.  Too much power in one respect can mask crucial disempowerment in other aspects of one's life.  That, I think, is my problem.  

My work responsibilities have steadily increased over time, without any of the old responsibilities being relieved.  I think this is true for many (most? all?) working people today.

I cannot help but think of the plight of the Israelites living in slavery in Egypt, when they asked Moses to help them.  When Moses approached the Pharaoh to discuss their concerns and unhappiness, the Pharaoh's first response was to order a doubling of their workload -- in the vain hope that they would now be too busy to think about their plight or organize for change.  The Pharaoh was wrong that this would subdue the people. I don't think that what we are seeing in today's world is as conscious or deliberate, but it is troubling just the same.

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