In an 1887 letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton, Lord Acton wrote, "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."This is one of those quotations that come to mind now and then. The oc...
In an 1887 letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton, Lord Acton wrote, “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
This is one of those quotations that come to mind now and then. The occasion is invariably related to an event that shows the all-powerful clearly abusing their power – Nixon and the Watergate scandals, for example.
But I’ve always felt this quotation is an over-simplification. For all the obvious examples – Hitler, Stalin and Amin – that prove the rule, one could cite other examples that disprove it. Gandhi, King and Mandela seem untainted by the corrupting effects of power. Lord Acton’s idea, however, doesn’t stand up under close scrutiny.
My problem is that, even though this quote does not always ring true, I like it anyway. I’ve always thought it resonates with a deep truth. As I read the newspapers, or even review my everyday life, I’m constantly reminded of situations in which power is abused.
The recent editorial skirmishes at the CanWest Global Communications (CGC) Newspaper Group come to mind.
This media giant, who owns a significant portion of Canadian newspapers, has imposed on them an editorial written from their corporate office in Winnipeg.
Most of the local editors rankle under this kind of Big Brother-like meddling. At the end of the day, since the boys in the ‘Peg have the power, they own the papers after all, they can impose the editorials.
On this issue, I side with the local editors.
But I support the owners right to make this mistake.
The really scary stuff going on at CGC is surfacing when you see columnists such as Doug Cuthand of The Regina Leader Post, and Stephen Kimber, Halifax Daily News, having their column’s axed – columns which run against the grain of opinion held at the corporate offices.
It’s one thing for a newspaper owner to state their opinion, it’s another when other’s opinions are stifled.
All of us have seen examples of power abused: the shipper who wastes hours of your time to make some petty point or to save minutes of their own time, the parent who hits their child, or the child who hits their pet.
All of these are examples of power corrupting.
I think we should revisit Lord Acton’s quote on a regular basis. If there is some sort of innate truth to at least the first part, “power tends to corrupt,” and we recognize that in some areas we all have some power, then it should follow that we monitor the tendency to be corrupted in our own selves.
Let us prove to be exceptions to the rule.
Thinking back to my high school days, I remember sitting around a camp fire one night with a buddy chatting about a great product idea we could sell to golfers, who as you know buy anything and everything to do with their sport.
It was back in the early days of Global Positioning’s commercialization. I’d just seen my first GPS unit while fishing in Northern Ontario and loved the ‘James Bond’ feel it gave me. (I can tend to be a little bit of a techno-junkie at times.)
We reasoned you could take a digital of map any golf course, feed it into a handheld GPS unit, tie the whole thing into an on-course weather station and voila! You’d know exactly how far your drives went, how far you needed to hit to carry the water and whether the wind was going to help or hurt a shot.
(Don’t get the wrong idea, I’m certainly no golfer. I’m a fisherman as I’m sure you’ve picked up on by now and the two seasons conflict terribly. The idea just sounded like a winner.)
Unfortunately the scheme fizzled out for us, as so many daydreams do, amid harsh words like “market research” and “startup capital,” as well as the usual parental advice of “that’ll never fly.”
Now flash-forward about 15 years and I’m sitting on a flight heading towards Pittsburg, Pa.
I’m flipping through one of those Sky Mall-type magazines – if you’ve never seen one, they’re generally all the same: lots of high-end, overpriced technology geared towards executives who generally have more money than they know what to do with.
I suddenly get a lump in my throat that no airline-sized, lukewarm glass of water will cure.
There in living color, on page 36, is the pocket caddy.
It doesn’t have the weather sensors we planned, but everything else was our idea … Right down to a button marked “Suggest a club.” As my former employer, Mike O’Neill, is so fond of saying, “Even a blind squirrel finds the occasional acorn.” And that idea may have been the biggest nut I’m ever going to come across.
I had a chance to speak with Jonathan Evans of the Canadian Innovation Centre this month when he called me to pick my brain about a product one of his clients is hoping to introduce to the trucking industry.
In the process he explained all about the way his firm helps folks, like those two starry-eyed, high schoolers I mentioned earlier, turn their ideas into profit.
“Most people don’t know anything about market research or applying for government funding,” Jonathan relays, “so that is where we come in. We help them with almost every aspect of bringing their idea to market.”
Where were you 15 years ago Jonathan? Oh well, I guess I can’t complain too much as things have worked out quite well so far.
I still like to pass an afternoon every now and then sketching out plans for some new idea I may have stumbled onto, but I certainly don’t have as much time to daydream about such things as I once did.
Now truck drivers on the other hand, have long stretches of time with nothing to do but think.
While that can get them into trouble (bad experiences can fester away until they boil over in the form of rage), if you approach your problems from a slightly different way it can not only take your mind off things – it might even make you rich.
Rather than thinking about how bad it was that something went wrong, figure out why it did and whether or not there’s a simple fix to keep it from happening again. If that fix is a widget you’ve never actually encountered, you may have just stumbled onto your acorn.
Give our editorial assistant Katy de Vries’ story In-cab Edisons a gander on page 39 and see if you think you might not be able to cash in on your last crisis.
– John Curran can be reached by phone at 416-442-2091 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.