Monday, October 16, 2006

Strength & power

Dear nangi, malli, cousins, nephews and niece,
I hope all of you are keeping well. As you may already know, the past few weeks have been full of rewards and blessings in my life – even more than I had prayed for. I am looking forward to the coming months with a lot of optimism and also a hint of anxiety caused more by expectations rather than doubts.
This time around, I thought I’ll write to you about a few lessons that I feel I am just beginning to understand only now. Unlike in the past, where I have been sharing my past experiences and thoughts with you, I hope we could learn these lessons together throughout the duration of our lives – because it is the nature of many real lessons in life that we can never fully understand them, but we continue to grow with understanding through each experience and the learning process continues throughout our lives.
First I want to share a few thoughts on ‘power’ and ‘strength’ (it may be a good idea to stop reading for a moment now to look up the actual definitions of these two words in a dictionary).
The physical sciences as well as the social sciences have precise definitions for what is meant by the word ‘power’. However, the word ‘strength’ has no place in our scientific exploration of the world – the word that comes closest to it is ‘energy’ but that has an entirely different meaning. In terms of physics or chemistry, power is the rate at which energy is converted while performing a useful task and is usually measured in “Watts”. You may have seen the power of a light bulb indicated as “60 Watts” or “100 Watts”. In scientific realms, energy is of no use if it cannot be converted into power; or in other words if the energy cannot be used to do some useful work. Therefore, scientifically speaking, power is a very useful thing that we, especially in modern times, cannot live without. Cars, toasters and refrigerators need power to perform their tasks and they usually get that power through electricity or by burning fuel. In fact, the per capita power consumption is an indicator of how developed a country is in comparison to others.
Sociologists on the other hand define power as the ability of one person or group to impose their will on others, even if those others resist the imposition. This sort of power is usually categorised as political power, military power, legislative power, judicial power and so on. If you have an interest in law, you will be able to find out that three fundamental divisions of power is necessary for a nation or state to function effectively. These three powers are; legislative power – the power to make laws; executive power – the power to enforce those laws; and finally judicial power – the power to judge whether the laws have been abided or not. If you decide to investigate further, you will also find why these three elements of power in society need to be separated and balanced and how the collapse of any of these powers could lead to a “failed state” such as what has happened in Iraq at the moment, where there is no law and order in society.
An individual may gain power in many ways. Painters, actors, singers and writers have the power to influence people’s thoughts and emotions. In fact in writing this letter, I am exercising my power to influence you in some way. A politician may have the power to take decisions that impact the lives of the citizens of his or her constituency. A corporate executive may have the power to employ or sack an employee. I suppose it won’t be too difficult for you to see already, that power – metaphorically speaking - is a double edged sword that can be used for positive as well as negative purposes.
Strength, by definition, is different. It implies the possession of power but not its use. ‘Strength’ is also the opposite of ‘weakness’ or ‘fragility’ and therefore implies a desirable quality in a person. You can think of the strength of an object or material too. With exceptions such as Kevlar – a bullet proof fabric - strong objects are generally not very flexible. Engineers often have to choose between deferent types of material in construction projects. Sometimes a task may require a material that is both strong and relatively flexible such as fibre threads for a safety net. I think modern cars are amazing feats on engineering because they are made to be very strong and durable, yet in a crash, they collapse rapidly – absorbing the shock of the impact – to maximise the safety of passengers. I sometimes wonder whether a person could be like that too – strong enough, not to let its strength harm or hurt others. Here, I am reminded of the famous prayer of General Douglas McArthur for his son when he said; “Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid; one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.”
I have my own thoughts on ‘strength’ and ‘power’ and about the ‘strong’ and the ‘weak’ and the ‘powerful’ and the ‘powerless’, but I will not cloud your minds with my thoughts. I would rather give you that space for yourselves to think about it at depth and form your own thoughts and opinions about them. I want you all to think about what it is that makes a person strong. It is physical strength? Does knowledge and talent make a person ‘strong’ or does it rather make the person ‘powerful’? Does the secret to a person’s strength lie in his or her belief sysem of ‘faith’, ‘courage’ and ‘morals’? you may come up with different views about these things and I would be delighted to read about your thoughts on it. I will write to you soon about ‘trust’ and also about trusting what we have been taught and trusting our own feelings. As I conclude for now, I have a wish for all of you; that you may learn to see the difference between ‘strength’ and ‘power’ and that you may always respect a man’s ‘strength’ but never his ‘power’.
Yours always,
Haren ayya/mama

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