Let’s start with a quiz. Who said the following?
“With Great Power, comes great responsibility?” If you said Spiderman, wrong – it was his late Uncle Ben!
“Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Never a truer statement perhaps? It was Lord Acton, a British historian of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
“When the power of love overcomes the love of power we will have peace.” The poet, Jimi Hendrix.
“What makes Superman a hero is not that he has power, but that he has the wisdom and the maturity to use the power wisely.”
Power is a funny thing in our world isn’t it. We certainly don’t want some people to get it, and yet often the people we want to get it, don’t want it. We feel terrible when it is taken away from us, but not when we give it away. We want our kids to have it, but not too much so they abuse it. When we have it, we have to control it, lest it cause corruption!
One thing that we all agree on is that power exists and the effect it has on us is significant. It is something that we must use wisely and something that we only want to give to those we can trust.
Next week is the beginning of the national campaign against bullying in schools. The very essence of bullying in our world (because we know it doesn’t stop once we leave school) is the ritual abuse of power over others. It can be evidenced in the tiniest annoyances of one to another that is not stopped when asked, to the fully-fledged physical violence we are seeing modelled all too often in our sporting heroes or the verbal abuse flung across the parliamentary floor disguised as healthy discussion!
The question for us in schools though is what can we do to combat this? What can we do for each individual in our school to make them safe in this world and responsible citizens of it?
It is undeniable that each one of our students will have to learn what to do with power, be it their use of it, or their fight against it. In John 13:34 Jesus says, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” It is interesting here that he notes it is a ‘new commandment’, because in Matthew 22:39 he says “‘Love your neighbour as yourself.” What is distinctly different however is the emphasis on the example he says on which we should base our love for one another. In Matthew, as a summary of the Old Testament’s commandments to the Pharisees question, he says that we should love one another “as we love our selves”. In John he says that we should love as “he has loved us”. The significant difference here is that the foundation of Jesus’ love for us is sacrifice, the desire for us to come into a place of complete peace and restoration, what the Jews called Shalom. All too often, however, the basis for our love as humans, is selfish gain (sorry to those who sit outside this generalisation).
It is in this command that we find the ability to begin the age-old revolution against this abuse of power; against the bully. Where we can follow this example and seek to teach others to love from the point of view of wanting the best for others it becomes obvious that we will begin to use our power for the benefit of others, not for their detriment or our gain. In such a world the bully has no place.
Yes, it is an adult lesson that we are all battling with. To love sacrificially is no easy feat and often costs us greatly. But isn’t this what we want our children to learn? To become people who are positive contributors to our world? To become people who seek to build people up and not tear them down? To think this could happen without a sense of sacrifice is naïve.
My challenge for our students at Richmond, as they succeed in Zone swimming and go to leadership days listening to Cate Campbell speak, is not that they are left trying to remember a wonderful quote they have heard, but rather they remember actions of respect, love and humility – the way power should be used. It is in this moment that they will point people to a greater hope. Just as Jesus finishes John 13:35 by saying, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”