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With Great Power Comes………….

by on June 16, 2015

                                                     With Great Power Comes……

                                                             by Marco M. Pardi

Note: All comments are appreciated, read, and responded to accordingly.  The comments sections for all previous articles have been opened for use.  I will certainly look forward to your comments.

“Loneliness is the way by which destiny endeavors to lead a man to himself.” Hermann Hesse (1877-1962) Reflections, 196, ed. Volker Michels, 1974

Francois-Marie Arouet, known by his nom de plume  Voltaire, first penned “With great power comes great responsibility.” I heard this often as Jamie Butler, a Medium I have known for 20 years explained her unfailing power to my college classes and told us how her father reiterated this wisdom to her when she was first emerging publically.  But “responsibility” is too flat a word to apply to Jamie.  Indeed, few people I know could approach Jamie’s exquisite and ever present balance of amazing power with kindness, caring, and a supportive love for everyone she encounters.  Whether greeting skeptics with poise or supporting clients reduced to tears she unfailingly gives to everyone a sense that her universe revolves around this person’s star.

Usually one to tweak what I come across,  I read that saying as, With great power comes great loneliness.  I am certainly not the first to see it that way.  Emile Faguet (1847-1916) said, “Loneliness is the wretchedness of superior beings.” Carl G. Jung (1875-1961) said, “It is…only in the state of complete abandonment and loneliness that we experience the helpful powers of our own natures.” And, “If a man knows more than others, he becomes lonely.”    

But let’s look first at the concept of power.  Aside from the obvious asymmetric relationship between child and adult, children are exposed early to power relationships among themselves, often with little understanding of the dynamics.  Going on 8 years old, I came to the United States a second time and, for the first time, lived in a neighborhood with other children and briefly attended a parochial school.  My name and my history drew interest from these average American kids.  Almost immediately I got a daily barrage of insults to my name and insults about my origins.  I reacted in every case.  A more mature observer would say I empowered these kids by my unfailing reactions and that, on one level, would certainly be correct.  However, although I did not understand it at the time,  my reactions also empowered me.  Almost every kid claimed to be half this and half that but could not identify a single relative who had ever been out of the country.  I came to despise American kids as street mongrels bred in the great International Dog Pound.  While my family was, in effect, political refugees from the higher levels of a particular country, I saw these urchins as the spawn of the world’s economic flunk outs.  Each insult, every slur was an affirmation that I was different.  While my family went to great lengths to blend in – my older brother even telling kids we were born in Cleveland, earning me a new label, Liar,  I withdrew into my own self validation. I was achieving my own personal power, along with a loneliness that was only occasionally mitigated by friendships with the rare foreign students and the disabled students – the “different” ones I met.   

But over time and through many groups one label seemed always to emerge: “You’re different”.  I learned that origins were not really the issue.

But what was the “difference”?  I certainly could not point to stellar grades; school bored me to near suicide.  I played football, but never once cared who won or lost and was as likely to maim teammates in practice as opponents on the field. I knew where I didn’t belong, but could not guess where I did belong.  Someplace other, that’s all.

Whether in the military or in civilian applications patriotism was a nauseating concept.  Yet survival dictated the development of a convincing veneer.  It seemed to me that patriots had no personal power; they had to borrow it from a flag.

A fellow graduate student explained her dedication to our grueling Ph.D. program by saying the degree would give her “power in the classroom.”  I was appalled.  Power from a degree?  Very early in my college teaching career I heard fellow faculty congratulating themselves on the “powerful lectures” they had delivered.  I did not tell them of the confused students who came to ask if I could decipher what those lectures “were all about.” I came to realize that power was power only when it had an effect.  Bruce Lee had a world famous 6″ punch; no opponent had ever withstood it.  Yet Bruce Lee shadow boxing was powerless.  I also, many years later, came to realize I could not accurately determine where my punches landed.  Thirty years after leaving a particular college a visiting faculty friend told me of students who “to this day remember how a comment you made in class changed their lives forever.”  Responsibility? I’ve always said, if I’m willing to take the credit I should be will to take the blame.  Somehow, self congratulations did not feel in order here but I do hope things went well for them.

Concepts of power inevitably spawn memes.  One is: Speaking Truth to Power.  But that is usually conceived in a narrow sense of power, such as when I advised the national directors of several major non-governmental organizations, in collaboration with CDC of two significant deficiencies I had found in their mass-casualty mitigation protocols.  They, being powerful in a very narrow sense, laughed in my face.  Soon after, Katrina, being even more powerful in a broader sense, brought the casualties I had predicted.  Was I promoted, even congratulated? No. I had embarrassed the powerful and a tried way for them to avoid the blame for the casualties was to pretend the advice never happened.  And better yet, make the advisor’s subsequent career a misery.

So, what about the loneliness?  The effort to establish one’s self as different can be successful.  Very successful.  And if that effort was largely if not entirely toward realizing and developing the potential of one’s mind,  it is practically impossible, indeed intolerably distasteful, to tamp this blossoming, living instrument down, to “hide the light”, in an effort to “socialize”.  One finds one’s self tightening the temporo-mandibular muscles, shifting in one’s seat, glancing in search of a distraction, anything to contain the urge to leap up and correct an error, expose flawed logic, or otherwise bring the conversation back from the brink without hearing the too often said accusation, “There you go. lecturing again.”

Sure, there are some pompous rectal apertures out there and they do make fools of themselves with lots of knowledge and little understanding.  But I’ve written of this recently (Small Talk).  The loneliness I refer to here comes from the frame through which others see you.  “Oh, I can’t really talk with _____. He’s way too intelligent.” And it comes through the experience of being framed, and even exploited.  With nine physicians in my family and several as friends over the years I understand their reticence at general socializing; sooner or later, many people want to get a medical opinion on something.

I recently had interactions with a 20-something Peruvian relative by marriage. His degrees are in international economics, but he applies himself in numerous areas. A recent father, he accurately discussed the latest understandings in genetics and gestational development. Sitting down for a meal, we had bread he had baked – after learning the molecular components and interactions of the ingredients and the variances of ambient atmosphere and altitude on baking. Through the day and the evening I felt I could raise any topic and just sit back for a TED talk. Yet, I quickly noticed his interactions with others in the large group were remarkably limited. I wondered if I was seeing a life of loneliness.

In this context I often think of Jamie.  At the conclusion of every class talk she gave she was mobbed by students who, if she had allowed it, would have kept her there for hours.  Of course, they were seeing her through the frame she herself had formed: a Medium with stunning powers she demonstrated in class.  But I suspect that, at times, she, like my physician family and friends, looks carefully at each new acquaintance to discern if they are engaging with her as the radiant and thoughtful person she is or as the vehicle to get what they want.  I sometimes presume to caution her: “Not everyone is as genuine as you.” I can only imagine that this, at times, must be lonely.

Although this blog is read in many countries, only a few interact with me through their comments.  I deeply appreciate them.  I have no grades to offer, no college credits to certify.  I sometimes think of the many happy hours spent in my college office, even my home, with a few students or former students.  Early in teaching I perceived the difference between talking to someone and talking with someone.  The former is quite lonely while the latter is quite fulfilling.

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9 Comments
  1. “I knew where I didn’t belong, but could not guess where I did belong. Someplace other, that’s all.”

    Marco, this sums up how I also felt so often. As a child did I “live in my own mind” due to this feeling, or did I feel that way because I already lived in my own mind? I don’t know.

    I do know I gravitated away from the “popular” kids, and toward the other so-called loners and those who were regarded as challenged in some way. My best friend in the third grade, a girl named Lynette, was born with a portion of her arm missing just below the elbow joint. It bothered me deeply that in all of the framed baby pictures of her around their home, her arm was always deliberately hidden with a blanket or in the folds of her dress. Yet while other children shied away from her at recess, I would stand in awe of her incredible one-armed feats on the monkey bars. We quickly became closely knit friends, and I discovered she was highly intelligent, gifted mathematically, and already reading books from her parents’ shelves as I was.

    Incidentally, Voltaire’s quote is also paraphrased in the Spider-Man comic book series. Throughout my life, Peter Parker is a character with whom I strongly identified. He is known for his loneliness, but is thoughtful, compassionate, intelligent, and armed with a penchant for sarcastic wit when faced with an enemy. My idea of a “hero.”

    I will never forget a certain male student who exited your final Death & Dying lecture at that particular semester’s end. He had tears flowing down his cheeks, and as he passed by me, he said his first and last words to me, “I can’t believe it’s over.” Although I will never know just how you made an impression upon his life, I feel you probably did.

    • Thank you, Dana. I pictured you as a child as I wrote that. In fact, I can’t imagine you any other way. And I thank you for your remembrance of that student. In our shared world of thoughts and feelings we treasure the opportunities to contribute positive meaning to others; you do so every day.

  2. jkent33 permalink

    “I perceived the difference between talking to someone and talking with someone. The former is quite lonely while the latter is quite fulfilling.”

    Your ending statements created a deep feelings of reflection, as I begin to search my mind for experiences, when I had a similair reaction. My career and social life called me to speak publically to small and large groups. Regardless of the size and subject matter, the one dichotomy present was defined by your ending statement. The pundits say that the best way to overcome fear associated with public speaking, centers around zeroing in on one person, and follow their reactions. That is all well and good, but invariably someone attempts to seize your power, by constantly speaking out of turn using distractive remarks.

    That being the case, I would stop speaking altogether and ask for a ladder necessary to complete my presentations on technical training and marketing. I would take the ladder and ask the distractor to assist me in setting it up in the back of the room. That person was then asked to climb to the top and sit where I would ask if it was comfortable and ask them to raise their hands for a few seconds until I motioned to bring them down. I would then remove their chair from the room and resume speaking to the group. Shifting my focus to only that person, by only speaking to them in the room; drew the necessary attention I was seeking. Funny how the height of the distractor’s seat would quieten their mouth. As you stated, talking to someone creates a moment of loneliness. Naturally, they would always come forward and apologize for their behavior; often, leading to a lifelong ally.

    Also your comments about Jamie, calls for me to say they were absolutely spot on, regarding the power she wields in a room of people. She definitley has a way to single out a person; by speaking with someone expressing emotionally and intellectually her message, while releasing, a powerful attraction for their attention. That power is difficult for an audience to relinquish. As the saying goes, she could turn the on, but sometines struggles at turning them off! Anyway, she is a charming hit, highly respectful for that power.

    Many of us like you state are quite different from their peers to the point of being hurtful. Many of us suffered quietly being the subject of insults due to those differences. That was often my case being reared in poverty stricken southern WV, whose schools were very inadquate to handle such occurrances. On the other hand, I wrested that power from those peers, while internalizing my emotions and used it to build an intellectual fortress; by making good grades and winning the approvals of both peers and teachers. It didn’t come without pain, but the rewards were promising enough to continue until mitigating circumstances prevailed.

    Perhaps, what doesn’t kill one; does make one stronger!

    Thank you again for another installment of your blog!

    • Thank you, Jerry. Your tactic with the ladder is priceless. If, in a speaking engagement, I ever encounter another person such as you describe I will try to employ a similar tactic – isolate the individual in some way. Since most of my talks are on death & dying, maybe I can have them play dead.

      Your experiences growing up and through your circumstances would be most inspirational, although I feel they would at times be painful for you to recollect and put into words. I appreciate your wisdom, and admire your strength. Marco

      • jkent33 permalink

        Feel free to use it [the ladder technique] at anytime.

        Something I will share at another time and place was the one year between my moving from Pittsburgh to Charleston; then moving to here in 1998, to begin a whole different departure from engineering career to one of marketing high-end exotic motorcars. For one year, I managed a large hotel and comedy club, which marked another period when I begin a three year journey, as a hotelier acting as a consultant in a venture I titled: Tear it down or turn it around!

        For one year, while managing the comedy club in the hotel,. I watched as comedians either fell flat or conquered the ever present heckler. From those comedians, I learned the many skills they used to quell these characters. Believe me, they were highly skilled using sophiscated techniques before unheard of to me.

        Thank you for your comments.

  3. Well, how could not this post resonate within me !
    For one born and brought up in Italy and yet always knowing she didn`t belong your words make ring and ring again many many bells 🙂
    mmmm, being different !! what does it mean and how can we use it to our own advantage and disadvantage ?
    As you know by now, I never really mingled in my youth and was always very wary of the `comitive`, groups of young people hanging out after school.
    To this day I am not really sure if it was me avoiding them or they avoiding me , but I do know that avoidance was there !
    The funny thing is that coming to Japan, I had to force myself to integrate and `mingle` more, mostly for the sake of family but not only.
    I must admit that it feels less threatening though being called different here in a foreign country than in Italy, supposedly my Mother country.
    However , although being labelled `different` can have its own disadvantages , I must admit that I have very consciously `exploited` it many times to my own (more solitary!) advantage .

  4. Thank you, Lory. Your youthful solitude opened the door for you to go within. Lonely, until you truly find yourself. Most would consider your transition to Japan to be the ultimate test of your self identity; it has long been considered one of the more closed societies For example, I’ve been told that no matter how well you learn the language you are always considered an outsider.

    We enjoy reading your accounts of your journey, and look forward to more. Marco

  5. The irony in this is that I, usually the most loquacious of your commenters, have so little to offer. I have always been a misfit, even among other misfits. It is only here that I begin to find my personal power, and for that I am grateful. I am the one whose life has been changed by your words; the one who remembers. Thank you, all of you, for being part of my life. Rose

    • Rose. The power of your presence and the lasting meaning of your words are immeasurable. The synthesis of this group brings to mind, and fruition, the greatest chemistry and physics concepts writ large in our daily lives. Marco

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