Power and Responsibility

A famous saying by Stan Lee goes, “With great power comes responsibility”; the reverse is also true, with great responsibility comes power. Whatever we do in this world, we either regress or progress and when an individual is accorded with responsibility it somehow comes with power in it. Having a responsibility is taking control and when individuals take responsibility, they gain power with it henceforth (Burns 2011). If one refuses to take responsibility, one tends to give away the power one could have had to someone else and through that one loses one’s will power. It is therefore evident that when an individual is accorded with power, responsibility must also come to play and the reverse is true as well; therefore, power and responsibility go hand in hand. There can be no power without responsibility and vice versa.


The Meaning of Power and Responsibility

Power is the ability to act in a certain manner and the ability to bring effect; it could be through legal or official authority. The person in power always has an influence on other people and also has a certain degree of control. Responsibility, on the other hand, deals with accountability; it means having a duty and/or obligation to achieve a certain task assigned to an individual. Failure to achieve the duty assigned might result to punishment or penalty. From the above definitions it is evident that the two go hand in hand since it is the fact that an individual has a responsibility to fulfill a certain task and,  with that duty in mind, the individual will act in a certain way and bring effect in the duty that s/he was given.

Power, Responsibility, and Leadership

Geyer has stated (224) that more often than not leadership is confused to be power, but in the real sense, leadership is not necessarily power, but rather responsibility to serve the people that look up to you and it is only when the leader has recognized the responsibility that comes with leadership when power streams in. Too many leaders confuse leadership for power and end up bossing subordinates around instead of having the responsibility of guiding them to achieve expected goals (Bambara 2007).That is usually the beginning of their downfall: they view leadership as a power tool rather than a responsibility in which they are to be accountable and take control of the docket in which they have been put in charge of. In the political arena, power and leadership are largely intertwined.

There occasionally exists responsibility without power, which results in an endless blame game. For example, most government offices such as ministries are blamed for a rise in crime, although it is the police that are responsible for curbing crimes in the country, but with responsibility laid upon them without proper power, they will not carry out their duties well unless they are accorded sufficient power to curb the rising crime rates.

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The Lesson by Toni Cade Bambara

In the short story “The Lessons” published in 1972 Toni Cade narrates a story of a young black girl named Sylvia and her friends from a very poor background on the outskirts of New York City, who are taken to a toy store by Miss Moore, an educated black woman, where they see outrageous toy prices. The short story brings our the reality about the rich and the poor living in two different worlds and it also brings out the social attitudes and challenges that face individuals from lower classes who tend to pursue education. Toni takes the readers through a journey of realization that only through experience and education can individuals from the lower classes face the challenges they face and improve their social status. The author shows differences in social status through the expressions of the characters that highlight the gap between the two worlds.

Toni writes the story from the protagonist’s view. From this perspective, we see a pre-teen girl who keeps to herself most of the time and whose parents are not around most of the time to give her a proper upbringing (Geyer 2013).  When taken by Miss Moore to the toy store, she sees the economic inequality that engraves a rich country such as the USA in that some individuals spend money on a toy that actually adds up to some other individual’s income. At first, Sylvia is adamant on the reality that stared right in her face but with time the reality sinks in and she even starts to feel small. The author didn’t write from Miss Moore’s perspective, which may be looked at from two angles: either people who work hard at school and earn an education will be awarded with material success or children had to be shown the economic inequality for them to make drastic changes in the way they see life.

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In “The Lesson”, through Miss Moore, the children learn that there is more to life than what they have experienced in the ghetto; the protagonist, who is very tough throughout the story, also learns about economic inequality in life. The story tells a tale of poverty, wealth, and resistance  The children, especially the protagonist, have a hard time believing that someone can buy a toy worth their family’s monthly income and somehow feel belittled. It is through this lesson that power and responsibility comes into play. Miss Moore gives them a background on the reality and leaves up to the children to decide how experience will impact their lives.  The teenagers are given a responsibility to experience life and to learn from the experiences and it is through that experience that they will determine how they will forge forward with the experience they have acquired. Therefore, it is true to say that with responsibility comes power, with the experiences the children have been exposed to they now have power in their hands to do what is right for them. It was now their duty, which is a responsibility, to decide  how the experience will shape their lives.

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“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien

This story is told in third person and it is a story of a first lieutenant, Jimmy Cross, who is in love with a girl called Martha and receives letters from her. It is a story of individuals who survived the Vietnam War to live and tell the story as it was, especially Jimmy Cross who later became a father and a writer. Tim Obrien’s life is depicted through the eyes of Jimmy Cross and most of the things that Cross went through or did were also experienced by O’Brien. The work is a ground-breaking story of love, war, friendship, memory, redemptive power, and responsibility.

In the story, first lieutenant, Jimmy Cross, learned the first lessons on responsibility that comes with leadership. One of his platoon members gets killed in a sniper fire in the Vietnam War and Cross goes ahead to blame himself for the member’s death. He sees himself as having had neglected his role as the leader of the platoon group, dreaming instead of the other world full of happiness and love (Geyer 2013).  When Lavender dies, Cross has to step up on his leadership role and that is when he comes to terms with his responsibility as the leader of the group. He has to distance himself from his love, Martha, and take charge of his group to avoid more lost lives.

In his story, Obrien takes the readers into the mind of a combat soldier; he goes ahead to write what the soldiers carry with them. They carry emotional baggage of the men who might die in the line of duty, they carry with them grief, loss, terror, and longing. Jimmy Cross himself has things he carries himself; he carries the weight of responsibility, abiding guilt and the loss that comes from distancing himself from the love of his life.

The things that the soldiers carry is a story of what people carry have in their heads or in their hearts depending on the situation they are in. As to the combat soldiers, they bear a huge load of emotional baggage and even after the war they still have vivid recollections of the near-death experiences and nothing they do can erase those experiences (Obrien 1990). The story makes an appeal to young people as well, in particular those that come from broken families or those that have had bad childhoods. These bad experiences is what they carry all their lives and somehow they cannot escape that sad reality.

Through “the things they carry” O’Brien brings out the baggage that various people carry on their shoulders as they go through life. Either a bad childhood or a broken home, somehow you have to live through that life because you have no choice but it is how you handle ‘the things you carry’ that will determine how you forge through life.

Jimmy Cross, for example, blames himself for the death of a platoon member basing his guilt on negligence due to the fact that he was busy day-dreaming of an ending of the Vietnam War. With strength, he takes up his leadership role as a responsibility to keep his men safe. The author makes his readers empathize the combat soldiers by describing details, such as the malaria tabs they carry, bibles sometimes, their fellow soldiers, so that the reader is able to put himself/herself in the combat soldier’s position and be able to feel the fear, determination to come out alive and the strength to see yet another day. The story brings out power and responsibility very clearly; the lieutenant has a responsibility to keep his group safe and through this responsibility he gets the power to make vital decisions that befit the whole team even if it involves distancing himself from the world yet to come, if he makes it to the end of the war (Geyer 2013).  The soldiers, too, have a responsibility of coming out alive and taking care of one another; through this they gain the power to act accordingly. It is therefore very true that with responsibility comes power and everything depends on how individuals will want to use the power accorded to them for the betterment of the people surrounding them.


Power and responsibility should always go together; without responsibility one cannot have power and if one has power, the individual must have the responsibility so as s/he can be accountable for the activities he/she engages in. In the first short story described above, power and responsibility are crucial for Sylvia: she is a pre-teen who comes from a ghetto, and the economic inequality is so evident in her eyes that she realizes that what the toy costs is what her family actually earns as a monthly income. She is then accorded the duty and responsibility to determine how the experience will affect her view on life and it gives her power to act accordingly. In O’Brien’s story, “The things they carried”, Mr. Cross blames himself for the death of one of his soldiers and cites negligence, he then takes his leadership role as a responsibility and this gives him power to act with accountability and determination to keep his men safe. Power and responsibility, therefore, should work hand in hand. Without this tandem, in a world where one exists without the other, as in the case of the police officers referred to in the beginning, there tends to be severe underachievement.

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