How great or powerful do you want to be?
I believe that every living creature is endowed with a certain greatness inherent in them, planted there by their Creator. But in this world many people run away from their innate power and betray the possibilities within them. Like the story about an eaglet raised among barnyard chickens, they settle into a small, limited life without ever discovering their inner strength and talent, their deepest value, their greatness of soul. They — we? — allow ourselves to be oppressed by limitations visited on us by others or by our own fearfulness while our true greatness lies hidden under a mask of low expectations and timid inaction.
On the other hand, others hunger for a different kind of “greatness” and miss the true thing. They appear fearless, grasping for power and greatness by virulent means. But, paradoxically, they also are driven by insecurity and fearfulness. Afraid to reach for the best within them, their bluster and violence are the masks covering over the fear that they will be found wanting, weak, and worthless. This is particularly sad, because our human greatness can’t be realized through aggressive grasping that diminishes those around us, or of violence (by word or action) that abuses them. It isn’t found by building ourselves up at the expense of others. Abusive behavior does gather to itself a certain kind of power, but nothing that approaches greatness or achieves that for which our souls hunger most.
When I think about the (sometimes obliquely expressed) hatred that we find in people who swagger with “power” before the world, I believe they are not happy people. What do they want but to be strong, to not live as weaklings in the world? Maybe they believe they can do that by making those around them cower and cringe. The desire to be big and strong and right has become a driving force. But however much of such power they achieve, it cannot make them happy.
Let me suggest that many of us have experienced, however faintly, a similar desire when we were small children, feeling oppressed by those who were “big and strong and always right” – i.e., the adults who dominated our world. Recalling this might help us find a way to build bridges with those who are frozen in their hunger for dominance. When we were children, becoming strong, growing up, getting bigger, may have felt like the only way to escape being constrained and feeling small. We too might have been stunted emotionally and never outgrown the obsessive desire for more power, but for the help of wise and caring adults (the “big ones”) who taught us to see strength differently and gave us love sufficient to overcome childish aggressions.
Those faintly recalled childhood impulses to be “big and strong” might offer us a connection to understand what has hardened into compulsion in adult bullies. At least it suggests that to demean and diminish the worth of bullies is not the way to heal the core wound from which their violent thoughts and actions flow. The more we ridicule them, the stronger their impulse to be powerful becomes, in the wrong way, the only way they know.
Surely we were meant to live something more than a passive, small life without courage or joy or power. But just as surely we were not meant to become bullies and killers of others’ humanity in our quest for power and greatness. We were born neither for violence (in any form) nor for impotence, but to live our lives as people carrying the image of the Divine around inside us.
We were born to reflect something of the beauty of God into the world, to live in reciprocal community marked by love and justice, and yes, to let something of the divine power flow through us. The power we need is the power of love, stronger than anything else that we can imagine. Not the weak human love that is more needy than giving, nor the self-centered passion that masquerades as love, but the divine love that created the world in prodigal generosity, in joyful self-giving so extravagant that it goes against all human reason or expectation: the love we can’t understand, only feel and express.
We have no idea how wonderfully we we’ve been made, how diminishing our petty aggressions are, or how much more powerful love is than any other power on earth. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881 -1955, a French philosopher, Jesuit priest, paleantologist and geologist) said it beautifully:
“Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man [sic] will have discovered fire.”
As a priest once said while speaking to a group of us who were on retreat together: “Why not become fire?!