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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Mormons & Materialism: Part 7 Power and Other Addictions


Recent studies on power suggest that its effects can be devastating:
Mr. Keltner compares the feeling of power to brain damage, noting that people with lots of authority tend to behave like neurological patients with a damaged orbito-frontal lobe, a brain area that's crucial for empathy and decision-making. Even the most virtuous people can be undone by the corner office.
It is sobering to think that power results in our acting like we are brain damaged. In the Church the situation is expressed in more religious terms.

We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. (See D&C 121:39)
Power in the Church generally comes with authority and the authority comes because we have been given a calling. Callings (temporary jobs) should be sobering responsibilities we attempt to execute with love, patience and long suffering. In other words, we try and be Christlike.

There is nothing Christlike about abusing power. The most obvious is using the benefits of our position to benefit ourselves. I'll illustrate with some examples.

Suppose a new temple is having a ceremony for groundbreaking, the cornerstone laying or the dedication. This is a prime opportunity for people in local leadership to claim attendance at these special events for themselves. One can attend and then boast about the incredible privilege in fast and testimony meeting, for example. Name dropping is often a symptom of this abuse of power.

However, a more Christlike approach would be to yield the experience to someone else, give away the tickets, yield one's seats. If one's presence isn't required then this is a wonderful opportunity to give someone else a gift. Someone new in the gospel or shaky in the faith could benefit much more than those of us who are stalwarts.


I've gone to all these events because I grew up in Utah and had many more opportunities. Adding more to my list wouldn't really benefit me in any significant way although obviously I'd like to go to more.

Having power in the Church gives certain people more access to information, persons and events. These privileges either become addicting or people get accustomed to them and don't like being deprived of them when they leave their callings. People sometimes cannot yield the power with any good grace. They still attempt to corral it for themselves or at least deny the current leaders any chance of succeeding. If they don't have any formal power sometimes they settle for the mere appearance of it or brag about the power they had in the past.

Sometimes things border on the ridiculous. For example, because leaders are often the first to arrive at the chapel they get used to having a particular parking spot.  Being accustomed to this perquisite later morphs into an entitlement. Someone taking your parking spot can be viewed as someone usurping your power.

People can dis-empower others in the Church by controlling information. It is alienating to find out that others attended a special event that you couldn't because you didn't know about it.

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