Power exists in many forms. This became excruciatingly clear throughout the past few months as I worked with a team that was tasked with figuring out where the power lies in Sacramento. Varying forms of power are wielded by different people, positions and even things. Consider the fabled elephant’s fear of the mouse. Where did the tiny creature get such power over a massive one? On the other hand, why did the elephant allow the little puck to have it? As an aside to the feature story 50 Most Powerful People on page 142, here are a few thoughts about folks who have a surprising amount of power&emdash;not unlike our friend the mouse.
â€¢ The telephone has power over me; it is the bane of my existence. Why can’t I not answer it, particularly when I don’t need to? Oftentimes I get home late and tired, eager to sit down, eat dinner, relax and spend time with my family, yet the damned phone rings and I compulsively respond to its power and pick it up, though I know the odds are gigantic that some telemarketer is calling to offer something I have absolutely no need or desire for. Wife, son, daughter all beg&emdash;no, command&emdash;me not to answer it, yet still I do. What’s worse, perhaps because I am a salesman at heart, I cannot be curt. I wait as the caller gets through the first part of the spiel (my family nearby, whispering heatedly, Just hang up!); after a minute or two, I manage to politely cut in to say that I don’t need what they are offering and thank them before putting down the phone. Why do I give the phone and the caller such power?
â€¢ Positions have power. No auto mechanics made the list in our feature this month, but correspondent John Frisch&emdash;one of many local businesspeople we canvassed for opinions as we amassed our power list&emdash;amusingly noted that when your car is in the shop, the mechanic is a powerful person whose call gets through quickly. Who else holds the power in our lives? Our children’s school principal. In offices everywhere, employees seem to instinctively know that this call gets through. It’s the same with a call from children, from your doctor’s office, clergy, civic officials and your spouse.
â€¢ One call that gets through fast due to a deceptive suggestion of power typically comes from a Sgt. Smith, a Capt. Jones or some title associated with law enforcement. Quite understandably, the receptionist immediately interrupts me: Mike, Capt. Jones from the police department is on the line! Do you want to take it in you office? I absolutely do, and as I rush to take the call I wonder what I’ve done, what one of the kids has done or if something else is wrong.
Good morning, Mr. O’Brien. This is Capt. Jones from the police department. How are you today?
Fine, thank you, I lie.
Mr. O’Brien, you care about safety and protecting kids in your community, do you not?
Of course, I say. I’ll say anything to appease the person I picture on the other end of the line, with holstered gun, the epaulets of his heavily starched uniform shirt bursting with stars and medals. Then Capt. Jones proceeds to hit me up for a donation to some unheard-of charity. The caller doesn’t proclaim to be affiliated with any specific local law enforcement agency; using a title to get through is inappropriate and irritating.
As these examples show, we allow plenty of strangers to have power over us. Whose phone calls will you take, and who will you open your door for? When a van pulls up in front of your house and out pop several people, including TV camera operators, and someone holding on to a giant check payable to you, you will open the door!
As you review the names of those who hold power in Sacramento these days, consider the source of their power. Do they have it because of money, influence, knowledge, work ethic, luck or something else? Keep in mind that power is fickle; it can be fleeting. Someday the tables may turn and the mouse will be the one who’s scared.