Sunday Snippet: Abraham Lincoln

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

On the other one hand, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross told us that the true character of a man is only revealed when circumstances are at their darkest. On the other hand, “Honest” Abraham Lincoln tells us that a man’s character is only truly tested when he is provided with great power. That’s an interesting contrast, wouldn’t you say?

While it certainly would be interesting to contemplate some superhuman abilities, I’m thinking that’s not the point of reference for Lincoln. Most people will tell you that they will stay humble if they happen to come across a large sum of money (like winning the lottery) or a great deal of power (like winning a federal election). However, these tunes can quickly change when the “what if” part of the equation comes true. Would you still be thrifty if you were $50 million richer? Would you still care for the “little people” when you have great influence over major multinational corporations?

What is with our natural thirst for power? Many of us would like to have greater control over the world around us, adjusting it to best suit our personal interests. It is from this notion that we learn about how power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I need not remind you of people like Ivan the Terrible, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Saddam Hussein. They were all able to enjoy a great deal of power, but were they all able to handle this power?

Going into a more modern context, how is Barack Obama handling his duties after nearly a year on the job? How have his character and his promise of “hope” been able to hold up with his newfound power?

While I agree that the true character of a man can easily be revealed when you give him power, I disagree with Lincoln when he says that almost everyone can handle adversity. If you take a look around today, with the recession and the overseas war being what they are, I think it’s quite clear that many people don’t know how to tackle hardship.

Instead, I think more people are able to manage mediocrity and normalcy. It is when they approach the extremes, both positive and negative, that you can see who they really are.