It is an occupational hazard of being an editor that you sometimes get paralysed over the meaning of one word.
This week, the word was “power”.
By definition, it means “the storing of energy”. The stored energy is a force that, when unleashed, gets things done. This leads to the secondary definition: “capability of producing an effect”.
But it is not the definition that causes angst; it is the quality of the word: Is it a good thing or a bad thing?
We just went through municipal elections and I didn’t hear any of the candidates say, “I want power.” English language purists would have applauded them for such a statement. Think about it: of course they would want power; they want the force that would give them the capability of producing an effect.
They want the capability to direct city staff to fill in a pothole on a constituent’s street … and this is a good thing.
Power, unfortunately, has developed a negative connotation. After all, according to Lord Acton, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
We are highly suspicious of people who want power and we bend over backwards to appear as if we don’t want power.
There are 700 active boards in the Yukon, so I am guessing quite a few of you sit on at least one. Let me ask each of you: When was the last time someone stood up in the meeting and said, “Ooh, ooh, I want to be the president!”
As an editor, I have power, but I never call it that. Instead, I say that because I have “x” amount of responsibility, I have “y” amount of authority to fulfill my obligations.
There you have it in a nutshell: “power” is just a tool … a tool to help certain people get things done.
It’s the “responsibility” that is the elephant in the room that is only recognized by other business, public service and political leaders. When there is nobody around to “offer direction” to, it is those leaders who end up doing it.
I was reminded of this last year when I was helping to deliver the papers: Art Webster, the owner of North End Gallery, expressed surprise that an editor (and the publishers and everyone else here) would have a paper route. I looked at him and said, “Yeah, tell me that you have never swept the sidewalk in front of your store.”
He smiled, knowingly, and said, “Just last week I washed the windows.”
Only those who have this tool, “power,” understand how limited it is.
Editors don’t fill papers with words … writers do. And I have never “ordered” a writer to write anything. All I do is make suggestions from time to time and help focus their efforts. Is that “power”? By strict definition, yes, I have the “capability of producing an effect”.
But the “storage of energy” I have is not an ability to force them; rather, it is their faith in my experience and desire to produce a great paper.
What if this paper is not useful or enjoyable to read? What happens then?
First of all, you, the reader, won’t pick it up anymore. If you stop reading it, our advertisers stop advertising. So, I’m fired and out on the street and nobody will want to hire someone whose past experience was editing a paper that nobody wanted to read.
So, who has the power now? You.
And if Art Webster’s windows aren’t clean, you may not go into his store. And if the potholes on your street aren’t filled, you may not vote for the current municipal council.
“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” wrote Shakespeare.
“You’re gonna have to serve somebody,” sang Bob Dylan.
“You’re not the boss of me,” said an angry three-year-old.
I still don’t know if power is good or bad. But thank you for reading.