Truly Powerful People (110)

Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

While driving downtown yesterday I listened to This American Life on NPR. It was a story about the seeming sudden ugly division in politics in Wisconsin, a rift in a state that used to identify itself as friendly in all things political. And, what’s worse, the division seems scripted.

Centuries ago Machiavelli taught rulers a simple strategy to keep the power: divide the people.

The story was startling because every person interviewed asked the same question: “What happened to us? Where is the Wisconsin that I know?”

There is a term coined in the early history of the United States for the divide-and-rule strategy: it’s called The Giddy Masses. Divide the people by making two different sets of rules: one side assumes the identity of the privileged while the other side assumes the identity of the suppressed. Both sides live in fear. The privileged will fight to hold onto their privilege while the suppressed will fight for equal treatment. Both lose. Once, in a fit of frustration, a financial advisor that I was coaching in story processes swore that social engineering was the only reason for so complex a tax code. He gave voice to the thought and then swallowed his voice for the rest of our consultation, as if he was afraid someone might be listening in.

Ultimately, it is a strategy that diminishes both sides because the story common to all sides is one of division and disempowerment. It is necessarily based in fear and righteousness. Common narrative, the thing that binds a community, negates itself when the common narrative is one of division.

Disempowered people cannot see the sacred in others because they cannot see the sacred in themselves. Disempowered people diminish others in an attempt to elevate themselves (or keep themselves elevated). Either way, disempowered people see their power as something separate, something that can be given or taken away.

What Machiavelli forgot to tell his readers was that the strategy of division is good for the maintenance of power in the short term but it erodes the society in the long term. What good is power if what you control is not worth controlling?

The folks in Wisconsin (as in all of America) are asking the wrong question. Instead of asking, “where did it go?” we need to ask ourselves, “Why are we participating in this game?” As in all divided nations throughout history, this culture of division is not happening to us we are actively participating in it.

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