Normally, this time of year I write some kind of ode to my mother who passed away seven years ago. This year I will touch on my mother within the context of this subject. However, I felt somewhat compelled to write about power because it was on my mind all week.
A tweet about a sociology professor who decided to run a two-week experiment was so alarming to me I kept thinking about it in many different contexts. The professor decided to see what happened if she adopted a white male privilege style both at home and in her work life. The astonishing thing about the experiment is that it worked. She got results. A link to the article is below:
I cannot even express how profoundly disturbing that was to me, but I had to accept those results. I began thinking about all the different instances where a power trip and autocratic style does indeed work. In some of those instances, there may even be solid reasons for choosing that style.
My mother was a kind and loving soul. And yet, like all Italian mothers, she was the matriarch and the one who ruled the roost. As children, if we were offered a cookie or piece of candy, we would look to my mother first before accepting the offering. She would nod and smile once. If offered a second piece, we would get bug eyes. Her non-verbal cue meant, no way in hell should you accept that additional cookie. Her authority was quick and efficient.
A favorite story in our family is when my father was joking with his grandson, asking him who the boss in the family was. With as much incredulity as a four-year-old can manage, he exclaimed, “Grandma is.” He looked at everyone as if they were nuts. Because, of course, everyone should know that. My dad could almost hear the, “you dummy,” at the end of his response.
As the years progressed, more of her natural teaching style came out, because we were evolving into responsible adults. Autocracy was no longer necessary. If I am honest, I have to admit the power differential between mother and child or father and child is probably necessary. Sometimes to keep a child from running into the road or placing their hands on a stove, efficiency is queen. There is not time to discuss the options or provide a prolonged teaching moment.
This got me to thinking about how power differentials work in life. The military is built on the necessity for soldiers to follow orders without question. For the most part, this is as necessary as intervening when your young child is about to step into traffic. And yet, we have numerous instances in history where following orders without question did not absolve those soldiers from committing immoral acts.
The same can be held true for the industry I work in. When the physician gives an order, nurses are taught to follow that order. That is the nature of the power differential at work in healthcare. Like it or not, there is a hierarchy. Very few nurses have the strength to question orders. This is changing ever so slowly, but that change is necessary. The reality is that we are all human and capable of mistakes. A life can be saved just as easily by questioning an incorrect order, as it can by following one in a trauma situation. The key is balance.
I don’t like acknowledging that acting like a privileged white male works. It goes against everything I believe in. I also believe that while in the short term this might be effective, I worry a great deal about the long term and the fallout from that style of leadership. Why do dictators and autocrats continue with their abhorrent behavior? Because it works. Fear works. Take a good hard look at what is happening in the US and around the world. That is all the evidence we need. But what will be the ultimate cost? Our humanity? Our long term survival? There is no such thing as a benevolent dictator. Our nation is not a small child.
I respected my mother and wanted desperately to please her as a young child and later as an adult. Although it hurt a lot when I came out to her and she reacted so strongly, we worked through it. Ultimately, my mother was not a benevolent dictator. She was a teacher at her core. She was also patient, loving, and the product of her own Catholic upbringing. Talking through the issues, versus declaring an edict I was never going to follow, was the way to resolve the conflict.
Well, damn, I’ve painted myself into a corner again (like I talked about in last week’s blog). I have zero ideas on how to direct you to my books. Oh wait, how about I adopt an autocratic persona…just do it, click below, no arguments! Feel free to respond and tell me if that worked?
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