Friday, October 15, 2010

Real Power

When I went to check my email the other day, a headline "Top 10 Most Powerful Women" popped out at me from the main news banner on the page. Hmm, sounds like news alright... The list includes First Ladies, politicians, CEO's, entertainers, self-made career women, and others who "break traditional gender lines". This is the blurb on the first page of the slideshow:
Forbes power lists are synonymous with moguls and movie stars, heads of state and captains of business. One look at the 2010 World's 100 Most Powerful Women list and it is clear that we've come up with a new ranking of the female power elite that reflects the New Order of now.

When Forbes set out to identify this year's list, they decided it was time to look up and out into the broader culture. Ther assessment is based less on traditional titles and roles and more on creative influence and entrepreneurship. These women have built distinctive companies and brands and championed weighty causes, sometimes through unconventional means; in other cases they have broken through gender barriers.   (
It's interesting how the world looks at things. How do they define power? (And, identify who controls it?). In the profile for each woman, they include information such as age, job title, country of citizenship, marital status, and education.  In many of the biographies, they include how much money the women make, why they are an icon, and what business ventures they've entrepreneured or invested in. Are these really the questions that determine who is considered powerful?

Yes, I know this isn't the first time, nor will it be the last time someone comes out with an opinion on this topic that is contrary to public (or at least, media) opinion, which appears to put more value on women with money and titles. Here's some things I would encourage you to consider.

Let's define "powerful." If someone has power over you, they can fairly easily persuade you and possibly alter your current line of thought or action. A powerful person carries a lot of influence. Thus, a powerful person in my life will have a much greater influence on me than a less powerful person. Do Michelle Obama (listed as #1 most powerful in the world), Oprah Winfrey or Lady Gaga influence my life and change what I do? Not at all. I don't listen to Lady Gaga's music if I can help it (some of what I've heard has just struck me as weird); I don't think I've ever taken the time to watch Oprah's tv show; and I've rarely ever clicked on news headlines to see what the First Lady is up to; it just doesn't matter to me what celebrities choose to do with their lives!

So, who have been some of the most influential women in your life, the "most powerful"? The top of my list is, unsurprisingly, my mother. She and my dad raised me in a good family; they taught me how to live by modeling the values they taught; and the genetic similarities between us are rather striking, and definitely affect my life. My attitudes have been undeniably shaped by my mom's attitudes and teachings. If I want a sympathetic listener, I go to my dad; if I want a practical answer, I call my mom, just because their personalities are different. I try to be a good and sympathetic listener like my dad, but I am also very logical in how I approach things. Could anyone deny that my parents have been the most influential people in shaping my life?

Isn't it kind of strange how the roles of parents, both mothers and fathers, have become diminished and minimized in our time? Look at our American society: many parents (some out of real necessity, others out of perceived necessity to "get ahead") work long hours away from home and leave the rearing of their children to schoolteachers, after-school programs, babysitters, and a host of extracurricular activities; in popular media, parents are made to look utterly ridiculous (just watch the Disney Channel!). Like many people can probably recall in their own lives, a lot of the lessons my parents taught that have stuck with me have been inadvertent ones... Little things I picked up on while doing things together, and by observation of how they do things. Quietly wandering into my parents' room, unnoticed, before they went to sleep and seeing my dad kneeling by the bed praying has made an indelible impression on me, especially because it was something I saw consistently over the years. Because of that and many other examples, I know that following Jesus Christ is important to both my parents, and that in order to obtain the same blessings for myself, I need to do the same thing.

Like President Dieter F. Uchtdorf counseled in the most recent General Conference (and as many others have said previously), it's important for us to have a balanced life and simplify our increasingly tight schedules. Spending quality time together is immeasurably important to raising children and fostering their development. Give kids a chance to come up with their own ways to pass the time; let them use their imagination with toilet-paper tubes, blankets, and string to make their own toys; include the kids in what you're doing, and be involved in things they want to do. Granted, I am not a mother. I am merely a 20-something year-old, qualified only by extensive babysitting experience and several younger siblings I've observed and interacted with on a daily basis over the years. Kids don't need the latest and greatest technology toys, the fanciest or most diverse dress-up closet, music or sports lessons every day after school, or a lot of the things parents are overdosing on; it's natural to want the best for your kids, and to give it to them if you can find a way to make it work. But really, they need YOU more than they need new toys. You are going to teach them what kind of person to be; Barbie and Leapfrog can't do that, and Cub/Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts can only make a pathetic attempt. Everything has its place, and Scouting and other activities can be a great support in giving a child the social and learning experiences they need, but those have the best results when they support what you do at home.

Perhaps I'm speaking to an audience that's going to sigh and roll their eyes, and move on to the next thing in their lives. Or I could be preaching to the choir. Like I said - this probably isn't headline news to anyone. Maybe I got a little overexcited and zealous when I read the article. But maybe there's just a grain of truth to what I said that could apply to you in your life. What are some major influences in your life? How do they change you? How do you influence others? Are you happy with the way things are, or do you wish they were different? If you aren't happy with it, go ahead and change! It's pretty hard to change what other people do, but you can change what you do and you can change your attitude. Take one factor in a situation and work on that for a while. How can I be better tomorrow or next week than I was today or over the past month?

I guess from all this, I want to affirm that real power and influence in society doesn't come with a paycheck; it comes from reaching out to others and working so that their lives are better for having known you. The most powerful way to do this is as a parent, and until then, there's lots of other ways to influence people's lives. I just try to be a nice person and give everyone the love they deserve. Jesus Christ is definitely one of the "most influential people" to have ever lived. He set the perfect Example for us to follow, and He went around serving others and changing lives. His love not only extends to those He touched during His mortal mission, but it extends retroactively and proactively in the lives of each and every person who has or will ever live. Jesus Christ loves each of us, and we can come unto Him today and immediately receive of His Spirit. It is real, and we can feel it. May we ever strive to follow Him and emulate Him in all we do, especially in how we treat each other. May we always be a force for good.

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