For much of human history, our societies have been guided by the cultural story of “might is right.” The laws, values, and narratives under which we have lived have been determined largely by who is in power, rather than any sense of justice or the good. Whoever is king or priest or lord becomes judge, jury, and executioner. Whichever groups hold power – men, white people, the rich, etc. – get to make the rules and further stack the deck in their favor. Those who are not in power try to find a way to hold more power, so they can bend the story in their favor.
But over the last few centuries, humanity has begun to see the limitations and errors of these ways. We’ve striven to replace “might is right” with notions of reason, liberty, equity, and justice. We’ve replaced strict monarchies with democracies and constitutions. We’ve diminished the political power of religions and separated them from our governments. We’ve instituted human rights. Some have come to see how entrenched systems of power have unjustly marginalized wide swaths of our communities – the poor, women, people of color, the LGBT community, people with disabilities and mental illness, and others – and sought to rectify those injustices. Slowly, for some, the narrative has shifted from celebrating and forefronting the dominant to celebrating and forefronting the marginalized. We see this in Pride events, the Women’s March, #BlackLivesMatter, #FightFor15, #MeToo, and other movements.
And by the same token, those who have traditionally held power and been celebrated for it – men, white people, the rich – have faced much more criticism, skepticism, and derision. Some of us have now taken on the cultural story that “might is wrong.” Anyone in power should be questioned, challenged, even maligned. Power is always wielded unjustly and those who carry are inherently enemies of the good and just. In response, we either try to reverse existing destructive power dynamics (e.g., “the future is female”) or do away with power and hierarchy altogether (e.g., “flat” organizations).
As a straight, white, able-bodied man of some means, it may not surprise you that this new story makes me uncomfortable. I want to acknowledge that this new narrative is certain to lower my position in the world and make me face uncomfortable truths and situations that I haven’t had to deal with before. So any questioning of mine has to be seen within that context.
But with that said, is this really the new story we want to take on for ourselves? Is it the most likely to lead to justice and liberty for all?
I am certain and unequivocal that the systems of power we live by now are unjust, corrupt, and must evolve into something more equitable and effective. But the solution is to not get rid of power, to condemn anyone who holds it. No, I think the solution is to build new systems that empower those who have earned it and can be trusted to wield it responsibly in service to the greater good.
This is not “might is wrong.” This new story is “right is might”, where the laws, values, and narratives that bind us are created and preserved by those who best represent us all and most deserve to lead us. It is leadership driven by and earned through competence, trustworthiness, and wisdom.