COTANGENT – By Daphne Cardillo
One Lenten season, I watched a very long film “AD (Anno Domini)” shown on local television. The story was about the travails of the early Christians under four Roman emperors; from Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius I, to Nero. One thing that really made me reflect with deep interest and confusion was finely illustrated in that movie. It’s about human nature, or human behavior in particular and its relation to power.
In that story, the Roman emperors behaved more insecurely than any ordinary man did after they were put into power. They felt threatened once someone disapproved with them or merely questioned them. They went into great lengths of depravity just for any man to agree or say “yes” to them; thus, any man can be killed or simply banished at whim. At first, I thought it has something to do with the exercise of authority. While playing the role of a sovereign, you have to make the display of being in control and obeyed. But I suppose it goes more than that. The power that is given to you unwittingly renders you powerless.
I have the experience of not being heeded and approved by my child, someone who is supposed to follow me being the parent. In each instance, I feel reduced, powerless, and out of balance, especially during those early childhood years. The more I tried to exact obedience and approval, the more I seemed to assert my power, not only over my child but also over myself. Probably those Roman emperors felt worse especially Nero and Caligula who acted more like small kids that have to be agreed, affirmed, and assured all the time. In the abundance of power, the human personality apparently regressed.
I suppose that this phenomenon has something to do with freedom, which is more of an equivalent, or rather, a precursor to power. Most men grow up with little freedom, being repressed and controlled by the laws and norms of the society in which they live, so that once they are given more freedom than they are accustomed with, and correspondingly power, they don’t know how to handle them. The more freedom and power man seize, the more immature and disordered he becomes. Truly, these things have to be taken by the ounce, each according to his capacity. Or better still, like toilet training, be freedom-trained and power-trained.
It’s a paradox for power is supposed to make man grow, become stable and secure. Yet what happens is that the more power one acquires, the more he realizes that he is empty, small, and insignificant. So to affirm or to prove himself and to others that he is something or someone big, he uses that power over just about anything or anyone in the slightest event.
Still, I would like to believe that power ennobles man rather than depraves him. Except maybe that power is also relative and has to be measured in time and quantity. Following the law of diminishing returns, it is likely to reach a certain limit to get optimum results, and once exercised beyond that limit; it will start producing negative results in increasing number as time lengthens out.