Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Howcum The Powerful Sometimes Can’t Help But Help Themselves To The Help?

~ Question shouted at press conference
The recent falls of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dominic Strauss-Kahn from their lofty perches and the imminent fall of Anthony Weiner from his begs the question as to why people who have everything -- money, power and prestige -- can't kept their hands off the help, whether they be secretaries, nannies or hotel maids, or in Weiner's case sending sexually-laden text messages to women?

It seems easy to explain this away by assuming that power corrupts, but that's too pat an answer. A more likely one is what psychologists call the paradox of power.

Here's how it works: The very traits that helped leaders accumulate control in the first place pretty much disappear once they rise to power. They become impulsive, reckless and rude, as well as less sympathetic to the concerns and emotions of others, but at the same time are unaware of their transition from mere mortal to hypocrite. Just ask John Edwards.

People almost always know the right thing to do, but a sense of power makes it easier to rationalize an ethical lapse, whether cheating, breaking one's marriage vows or stepping over other ethical and moral lines. Countless psychological experiments have proven this so, as well as something else: Common sense, a quality that certainly is lacking in a former California governor, former International Monetary Fund chairman and now an about-to-be-former New York congressman.

Photograph by Richard Perry/The New York Times

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