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The Dark Side of Power

Updated: Jan 13, 2021

In the stories of the Star Wars saga, the universal struggle of good versus evil is exemplified in the conflicts that erupt between the Rebellion and the Empire, the Resistance and the First Order, the Jedi and the Sith, the Light Side of the Force and the Dark. One side attempts to establish and maintain control while the other attempts to promote and preserve freedom. The leaders of both sides are fully committed to defeating the other and the tactics they use to do so are diametrically opposed. Take, for instance, the Jedi and the Sith.

For the Sith, the Dark Side of the Force provides them power through fear, anger, hate, aggression and suffering. Power is something to be gained through intrigue or force and jealously and viciously guarded once it has been seized. For the Jedi, the Light Side of the Force provides them power through serenity, peace, sacrifice and balance. Power is something to be learned and shared with others for the mutual benefit of all.

While the Star Wars universe may be fictional, many of the precepts found within its stories are completely relevant to the world in which we live, especially when it comes to ideas related to power and control.

Few leaders in our schools, businesses or other organizations would ever compare themselves to Darth Vader or Emperor Palpatine. Yet there may be more truth to the comparison than they want to admit. An organization in which the employees or participants feel they have no voice and are shut down or ostracized if they try to ask questions is one in which fear will quickly spread. When fear is left unchecked, it can easily lead to feelings of anger and oppression. As anger grows over time, it can change into hatred of the situation or of the one who is seen as the cause of the fear that is felt. And when someone allows hatred to enter their heart, there will always be suffering, by both the one who hates and the one who is hated, as conflict is almost certain to arise.

In The Phantom Menace, Yoda gives a prescient warning to young Anakin Skywalker when he tells him, "I sense much fear in you. Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering." Years later, after growing to become one of the most powerful Jedi in the history of the order, it will be Anakin's uncontrolled fear that leads him to betray all that he believes in: his learning, his companions, and even those that he loves the most... all in the name of doing what he comes to believe is right. His weakness is his hubris and his failure to see any point of view beyond his own. Giving in to this weakness, he ceases to be the once selfless and heroic Anakin Skywalker and is transformed into the self-serving and malevolent Darth Vader.

Those in positions of authority that feel they must maintain control at all costs, who believe that it's okay for those they lead to have a "healthy fear" of them or their authority, would be wise to heed Yoda's words. The fear that they instill in others may actually be born out of the fears that they wrestle with themselves. Their misuse of power may make them feel strong yet it can simply be a mask for the internal weakness that they're afraid to show. They convince themselves that their insights, ideas, and talents are superior to all others and the actions that they take are in the best interest of all involved. They may never stop to consider that all that they're doing in the best interest of others is actually only done in the best interest of themselves. Like Anakin, leaders who proceed down this path will eventually lose the very things they hope to gain.

In the end, Anakin is redeemed through the love of a son who refuses to give up on the man he knew that his father once was, before becoming consumed with a desire for power and control. Not everyone is that fortunate. As leaders, the story of the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker should serve as a cautionary tale. May we never allow our desire to lead for the good of others to become tainted with a desire to lead for the good of ourselves.

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