The Definition of Power

At my old job in Washington, I had a badge.

It got me into shorter lines, cordoned off areas, rooms marked ‘Authorized Personnel Only.’ And if I was with someone without a badge, I got to say, “She’s with me.”

I talked a good game about how ludicrous the badge was. But a small, dark part of me quietly loved it. I had access. I had power.

Until I didn’t.

I left my job on a Friday. That morning, I gave my badge back. For the rest of the day, I caged myself in my office. I didn’t want to be turned away from marked rooms and cordoned off areas.

The 14th century Persian poet Hafiz was born in Shiraz, Iran, and buried in the Musalla Gardens there. Little is known about what happened in between. Despite few biographical details, Hafiz’s philosophy is made clear in his poetry.

The small man
builds cages
for everyone he knows.
While the sage
who has to duck his head
when the moon is low
keeps dropping keys all night long
for the beautiful rowdy prisoners.

I found this poem while I had my badge. I understood this poem the day I turned my badge in.

My badge and I were cage builders. That small, dark part of me thought access needed to be scarce to be powerful. Thought I had to clutch power tightly to keep it.

That small, dark part of me thought wrong.

No flame is diminished by sharing its light. Real power, honest and undemanding, sees abundance where others see scarcity, releases its grasp where others clutch, drops keys where others hoard. There’s no badge for this power.

Cage building is a hard habit to break. I’ve got a ways to go. But the day I turned my badge in was the day I began to redefine power.

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