Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The Powerful Bear

 He deserves a post all to himself, doesn't he?

There are people in this world who view humanity's existence as but a competitive struggle for power. To dominate others. To maximise one's slice at others' expense. Every man or woman for him or herself. Human nature, they say; or the nature of the state system. Some, in arrogance, title themselves "Realists", as though to imply they are so enlightened as to grasp the "truth" of the world from which most people hide behind idealistic illusions. It's all about accumulating power, they say: power, of course, which comes from the barrel of a gun.

They know nothing of power.

Take this bear, for instance. One look at those big round eyes and you are compelled to touch him or hug him. No resistance is possible.

But the bear rejects the violent, coercive notion of power. The bear doesn't say "Hug me or I'll shoot you!" The bear won't lock you in a cell. The bear won't have you sacked. The bear won't cut your benefits. The bear won't deport you. And if he did, it would hardly convince you to hug him.

No, the bear persuades you to hug him because hugging him feels good. He doesn't force you to do things you don't want to do: he gets you to want to do things.

This bear could get you to do many things that the barrel of a gun could not, because power is not a linear measure of your ability to crush people. It is qualitiative, not just quantitative: there are many different kinds of power, whose effectiveness varies between people and situations. Which is more powerful: the tank on Tiananmen Square in 1989, or the young man who was filmed standing in its path, blocking its advance, broadcasted around the world to become an international symbol of the Chinese Communist Party's brutality which dogs its reputation (and rightly so) to this day? Those tanks were deployed to destroy one city's rightful opposition; that man who stood in its path inspired up one planet's worth.

Force, fear and the infliction of suffering are ineffective at getting people to do what you want. They breed indignity, hatred, give people a reason to fight you. Crushing dissidents is expensive, especially when each abuse against humanity generates a further ripple of loathing – and incentive to your destruction – through families, friends, communities and everyone in the world who watches you do it on YouTube. Those to whom power is to make others fear, doom themselves. This outcome is absolute.

How better for society to uphold a kinder and more respectful power, like that of this bear? More demonstrations of care, more love, more persuasion, more reliance on decent reasoning and positive feelings, more leading by good example, more abiding by the same standards you expect of others, and more consideration of the outcomes for them. That is more effective at getting them to do what you want; they will do it better; and you won't have to watch your back for their inevitable daggers if you'd chosen to make them fear. It also makes society that much more pleasant for everyone in it; would we not prefer to live in a world like that?

I am soon to start my course at the United Nations University. If I like what I see, then however hypothetical this is today, I might just go on to investigate opportunites for UN- or UNU-related work. If ever I do, the bear shall have a prominent position on my desk, such that its power radiates upon all who come before me.

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