Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Power of Power

I recently finished reading the book Fantastic: The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger by Laurence Learner.

This biography of Arnold Schwarzenegger would be easy to dismiss as a portrait of a bodybuilder, but it’s actually a Shakespearean portrait of the use of power.

Throughout his story, Schwarzenegger used whatever leverage he had, from his humble beginnings in an Austrian village to being elected governor of California. In the early days he used his body to attract women (a trait which he continued until well into his marriage) or gay admirers/sponsors, and to bully those he considered wimps, sissies, or beneath him.

In later years he used his stature as a bodybuilding champion to squeeze concessions from business partners such as Joe Weider, who created an empire with his bodybuilding magazines, equipment and nutritional supplements, and who was himself known for his overbearing business tactics. Friends who did business with Arnold suffered the same fate as strangers. His ability to separate business from any other considerations (while trading on friendship himself) brought him success, and eventually to the governorship of California.

Along the way Arnold met Maria Shriver, one of the Kennedy clan – another family that knows how to use its power. Friends and strangers alike are acceptable targets for browbeating, whether for political purposes (Ted Kennedy) or for good causes (Eunice Kennedy Shriver).
Again, they have been rewarded for their use of power.

Although the final act has yet to be written in Schwarzenegger’s drama, I’ve already learned a lesson, one which would have been useful long ago. The use of power (or leverage, or advantage, or whatever term you want to use) is acceptable and even admired by the vast majority of people…..from a distance. Regardless of your political views, the Kennedys are admired by the majority of people. This is despite the fact that the family fortune was based on illegal liquor sales. (A parenthetical thought: Michael Corleone had it right in The Godfather. If you can sustain a fortune for at least two generations, regardless of how it was earned, then you can win respectability.)

Arnold is also admired by a majority of people who know his story. Along the way, though, he amassed a lot of enemies by his semi-ethical business dealings, and his ability to run roughshod over anyone or anything in his way. In that sense, Schwarzenegger really is the Terminator.

An old adage says “The end justifies the means.” A refinement I read once noted that if you use evil means, then the end can not, by definition, be good. Power used without regard of how it affects other people is wrong, and the user deserves to suffer the consequences of his or her actions.

Some of us, however, have had power at certain times that could have been turned into better circumstances for ourselves and those around us – without impugning the rights of others. I should have read Anthony Robbins’ Unlimited Power when it first was published.

Perhaps I would have been on another, more successful path. Maybe even the governorship of a state.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It reminds me of the old adage about the golden rule: "Them that has the gold makes the rules...well, just getting the gold, they make the rules, also. hmm...and if you wouldda been named governor, I DAMNED sure better have been named your press secretary! lol...MW