Column By Elena Yang
I often find that good novel writers seem to have the innate ability to grasp complex aspects of human nature and render them in intricate and frequently gripping storytelling.
Whereas social scientists, having spent much money and time conducting research (novel writers do research as well, albeit in much less sterile conditions), sifting through and analyzing mounds of data, participating in debates and discussions, then produce these dry-dry-dry research papers.
Of course, it is not fair to compare two completely different genres, but it does make one wonder.
This isn’t my topic today!
Today I write regarding J. K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series. Many interesting discussions of power in these pages can be applied to the study of organizations and management.
I warn you: My imagination and writing cannot come even close to Ms. Rowling’s magic. But I’ll try not to be too dry and boring. And if you haven’t bothered with Rowling’s work already, today’s – as well the following two weeks – musing may not appeal to you.
This complicated topic is going to require a few entries. In the first of three installments, I bring you two kinds of power, pure-and-total-control type of power and secrecy-based power.
Different situations call for different leadership styles, and so it is with the use of power. Some people are intrinsically hungry for power and others use power only when confronted by situations.
I won’t go into the psychology of why some are power hungry – I think we all have theories based on our daily encounters – but I assume that most of us exercise power at one point or another throughout our lives.
I. Extreme Power Display is Uni-directional and Uni-dimensional
One of the first things that struck me about Lord Voldemort’s power trip is that it is fairly one-dimensional, like a lot of villains in both fictitious and real worlds. They just desire it, and a LOT of it, and all for themselves. Total Power = Total Control. We see it in Voldemort, in Sauron in the Lord of the Rings, in Hitler, in Mao Zedong, etc.
Have you ever wondered what would these monsters do when they actually got all those powers? Just how much more destructive could one enjoy being? How many murders would satisfy them? How much material would satiate them? What do they want next?
Perhaps it is because their hunger is so great that their continuous desire to exhibit their power makes them seem one-dimensional, even though the paths by which they have acquired their power are varied and fascinating because these paths are inevitably sordid. (We do like sordid stories!)
What all of these super villains share is the base of their power: fear. As much as Voldemort’s hunger for power is insatiable, so also is the fear he engendered in both his followers and innocent bystanders.
This is not to say that Harry, Hermione, and Ron weren’t afraid of him, but their fear was specifically targeted and manageable. Innocent bystanders couldn’t grapple with their fear for Voldermort; they didn’t know where the fear resided and they didn’t possess the knowledge or the means with which to defend themselves and others.
The unknown and the uncertainty paralyzed them, to the point of not even daring to refer him by his proper name. And how about Voldemort’s followers, all the Death Eaters?
While they themselves were powerful, their boss was much more powerful. What’s more, they also desired to have more and more power, and “reasoned” that only by following Voldemort would they get more.
Insatiability can turn a person inside out. But ironically, the Voldemort type of fear-based power is all about him; he was the only beneficiary and he would never share significant power with “his” Death Eaters.
II. Secrecy-based power is a close cousin of fear-based power: However, it depends on what you do with the secrets.
The Dursleys’ biggest secret was also their biggest fear; that they had witches and wizards for relatives. Their secret became all-consuming: It dictated their conforming behavior and it gave them justification for controlling Harry Potter.
If Harry and his mother were not in the Dursleys’ lives, the Dursleys might have demonstrated their controlling behavior in other manners; they might still want to conform (to whatever standards they deemed “right”), but their motivation might not have been as strong and their bad behavior might have been tempered.
Not Harry’s nor his mother’s fault, but it was these relationships from which the need for secrecy became the driving force for the Dursleys.
But Dumbledore also kept secrets from Harry too, so why wasn’t he as remotely obnoxious to Harry as the Dursleys? For one major difference, Dumbledore didn’t need to keep the secret to preserve his power.
Yes, occasionally, Harry was mad at Dumbledore for not confiding in him. But Dumbledore was a skillful teacher and sometimes, teachers have to be manipulative.
After all, it is much easier to just catch that damn fish and feed it to the student, yes? To impart skills into another human being, to ignite interest in acquiring those skills in the same human being, and to stand aside so that the person learning the skills can take the time to absorb the lessons, all require a subtle play of offering and withholding information (i.e. secrets.)
Not unlike fishing. With Dumbledore, the boundary between withholding and offering evolved with Harry’s gradual awakening. With the Dursleys, there was only withholding; they saw deprivation as their only weapon.
Dumbledore’s use of deprivation was a means to lead Harry to the places where he could gain his own insight.
I will describe four more types in the following week, after which I will finish with the often-neglected category, the followers. In the meantime,
Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.