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Why do people in power change so radically?

By Chuma Ikenze
18 January 2023   |   1:44 am
I recently saw a post on a WhatsApp platform about a leadership training organized in the USA for Local Government Chairmen from a major state in the South Western part of Nigeria, sometime within the last four years.

I recently saw a post on a WhatsApp platform about a leadership training organized in the USA for Local Government Chairmen from a major state in the South Western part of Nigeria, sometime within the last four years. In the course of the training, the local government chairmen were introduced to the findings of a psychology professor at the University of California Berkeley. They heard that this professor has extensively studied the brains of people in power and found that people under the influence of power are neurologically similar to people who suffer traumatic brain injury! They heard also that according to the July/August 2017 issue of the Atlantic magazine, “people who are victims of traumatic brain injury are more impulsive, less risk-aware, and, crucially, less adept at seeing things from other people’s point of view.” In other words, like victims of traumatic brain injury, power causes people to lose their capacity for empathy.

I suppose all of this finding is meant to lead to the conclusion that the cause and culprit of the nefarious activities by public servants is nothing other than Power induced brain damage!
Now, that is indeed a new one for me.

I can imagine the chuckle that must have emanated from the participants in the training session when they were presented with these “expert-led scientific study results”. Just like the gene theory for addiction, and so many other psycho-scientific attempts to explain man’s noxious behaviors!

Indeed, one could almost hear a corrupt public servant “sincerely” declaring when accused: No be my fault o, na the power wey shak me, so te e wound my brain.

Of course, if they were ever hauled before a tribunal, or to court for their nefarious activities their legal team would, no doubt, cite these study results as exculpatory evidence (exhibit 1A).

Now, what of a simple commonsense and reasonable man approach to answering this question? One that places the focus where it belongs; namely Desire –> Opportunity –> Choice.

Let me explain. Everybody entertains one desire or another. The relevant ones in this case are material security, recognition, and acknowledgement. Being in a position of power gives one greater access/opportunity to fulfill these desires. How the fulfillment takes place is determined by that person’s moral compass, which has nothing to do with his/her brain or gene.

Clearly, if one is driven by material security, they will, if given the opportunity, want to remain in power to continue to accumulate wealth, even when they have stolen more money than they or their loved ones can spend in many life times. If driven by recognition, they won’t want to relinquish power, so that they can remain in the lime-light, and if driven by acknowledgment, they would want to control as much as possible of everything, even to the point of becoming dictators.

Since most humans have a cocktail of desires to different degrees of longing, it is not surprising that we see different degrees and mixtures of the exercise of choices when the opportunity of access to power presents itself. At its extreme, a person can pursue and exercise power to the point of becoming a tyrant, an embezzler of epic proportion, megalomaniac, or all three.

By the same token, a person with the highest moral compass will take advantage of the opportunity of access to power to promote the material security of as many as possible, build up the self-worth of his/her compatriots and help each one towards their own maturity along their individual paths. We call such people saints.

The object lesson is that a person’s moral compass is what determines what they will or will not do when in power. Therefore, any objective person can easily foretell what kind of public servant a person will be.

Perhaps the question that we and every potential public servant should be asking of ourselves is: “What desires do I harbor and what choices will I likely make if given the opportunity of access to power?”

This is not a difficult question. It just demands honest self and people assessment. It also holds the key to electing the kinds of public servants who will not, upon gaining power, decide to entrench themselves in position, and in the process facilitate the appointment of civil servants who share the same moral compass as themselves, to drive the society into chaos and mass suffering.

Just as desiring is a universal human trait, choice making, or a poorly developed moral compass is not limited to those who pursue public office. It applies to all of us. Therefore, the moral compass of the majority determines the future of any society. Because anyone who finds themselves in a position of power could change that radically.
Ikenze wrote from California USA.

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