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What is it about power that causes otherwise very pleasant people to turn into obnoxious and arrogant creatures? I read a very insightful article from the Wall Street Journal by Johan Lehrer over the weekend on the subject of power and nice people. Lehrer says: “The very traits that helped leaders accumulate control in the first place all but disappear once they rise to power.
Psychologists refer to this as the Paradox of Power. “Instead of being polite, honest and outgoing, they become impulsive, reckless and rude.” Unfortunately, I couldn’t help but think about the ANC when I read the article.
I am mindful of the fact that some within the ANC may call me arrogant for even asking the question. In fact they will call me arrogant for even thinking that they read this column, and if they do, that they even think about or discuss it afterwards. They may be right. Perhaps I am the arrogant one.
One of the things I will never understand about the ANC is the fact that people outside the movement are not allowed to tell them what it is they are doing wrong. The moment someone does, they retreat into a laager and go guns blazing, no matter how legitimate the criticism is. Another thing that has always confused me about the ANC is this: if one votes for the ANC but is not a card-carrying member, is one not allowed to criticise party?
The party does not distinguish between sympathetic outsiders who criticise it because they want to see it succeed and those who criticise it because they are happy to see it fail. Yet outsiders often have a better understanding because they don’t suffer from insulation that comes from being an insider. Insulation from outside ideas breeds the false idea that one may be under siege when in fact one is not, which would explain the over handed approach that is often applied when reacting to criticism.
The Wall Street Journal article entitled The Power Trip tackled the murky subject of power. What is it about power that causes people who were otherwise nice people on their way to attaining power to become mean and nasty and to think that they can do no wrong?
In the article, according to a study conducted by Mr Keltner and Cameron Anderson, a professor at the Haas School of Business, Keltner says, "When you give people power, they basically start acting like fools. They flirt inappropriately, tease in a hostile fashion, and become totally impulsive." The ANC often behaves in this manner, as if it can do no wrong; it is the alpha and the omega. We all remember when president Zuma said the ANC would rule until Jesus returns.
Mr Keltner argues that the best way to treat power is transparency and that the worst abuses of power can be prevented when people know they're being monitored. This suggests that the mere existence of a regulatory watchdog or an active board of directors can help discourage people from doing bad things.
And by watchdog he doesn’t mean filling the board with friends and yes men because that is how abuses are most likely to happen. This then begs the question and a dangerous idea that the ANC would never accept; in fact I doubt any political party would. Should the ANC have a board of directors as outsiders who oversee, advise and help them go forward into the future while maintaining its legacy without being transformed into something that it is not? If the ANC had a board of directors that were not members, would the party have avoided the controversy that has plagued the information bill for example?
I am aware of the fact that someone will say that ANC members are the board. You can’t have insiders as board members. I know it’s a crazy idea but it’s worth a shot.
This is why we need a strong judiciary and a strong, fearless press that is not afraid to challenge and question. So far we are grateful that the South African press is free and can investigate without fear or favour although many fear that those days may be numbered. Once we take away these watchdogs, one of which is the media, we are in for a fast descent into arrogance and abuses of power.
We humbly ask the ANC not to fall into the trap of the arrogance of power.