by Erica Ly

Confronting the power differences throughout life and how to address them.


Remember when you were a teenager and had an argument with your parents about freedom? Maybe you believed that they were pulling the reins on your future too strongly, and that they shouldn’t tell you what to do just by playing the “mom” card every time. You would be better off living by your own rules. Then ensues the whirlwind of moving out at an unplanned age, or exclamations of “running away from home”, like a six-year-old who doesn’t have the video game with the new boss level that everyone else has.


The sudden gaining of “full control” seemed like a great idea at first. Instead, the initial immersion makes us realize that having the reliable plans that we depended on for years instantly ripped out from under our feet only leaves us face-planted on the floor. That full control given to someone unprepared leads to complete loss of control – irregular sleeping and eating hours, and no clean clothes because now we’re the ones who have to do the laundry.


Differences in power can fall on a thin line of either being a huge benefit or a great adversary to our success. Someone who has seen the world before you, or has completed the task you are struggling on, can be a reliable source to gain insight until you learn to adapt on your own. As most scientific innovations are found, an offer of a shortcut in the form of your mentor’s previous findings can combine with your own to result in the potential to make great discoveries, from the saved time. Even if the authoritative figure believes that you should learn on your own, their good intent will keep them quietly monitoring your actions, and nudge you away from the edge when you stray too far.

Alternatively, the difference of power can be exploited by negative leaders who may look down on those under him or micro-manage subordinates into losing their individuality. While some of these leaders may only be ignorant having gained their success through this same scrutiny, or unobservant as they cannot see the potential of working in your way from their eyes, there are some people who do not seem to deserve the extra authority. The source of their malicious behaviour may come from a form of jealousy, envy, or worry that you might exceed and outshine their own success. These heads will attempt to suppress your hard-earned success, making your good work futile, and your voice unheard from the chasm between authority and subordinate.


Although those in higher positions are people just as we are, we realize that we must adjust our behaviour when speaking to them, and strategically reword dissatisfaction into suggestions instead of swearing like sailors or resorting to full-on fist fights.

This automatic adjustment to levels of authority is what keeps us instinctively calling our professors by their last name, or “Sir/Madam”, and feeling somewhat unsure or out of place if they kindly insist on being addressed by first name, as equals. It is what keeps us re-reading our emails to authoritative figures again and again, checking for proper spelling and grammar before sending. It is also what allows those in higher positions to respond to the messages with short sentences that may not even be addressed to your name with the correct spelling.


Throughout our lives we experience differences in positions of power. Not only directly with our parents and relatives, but as students: we abide by the requirements of our teachers. In the workplace, we perform according to the expectations of our managers and target team goals set for us. As good citizens, we do what we believe is “right” and “good”, guided by government laws and the morals that we develop as we mature.

We never actually achieve that “freedom” we demanded as teenagers. But then again, would we really be on Cloud 9 if we did get the chance to do everything our way and without someone to tell us what to do? Think of all the terrible situations and wrong answers we would have to go through first-hand just to find the right answer that someone already found by following an arduous path. Not only would inventions cease to exist as the lives of geniuses are unable to surpass the time wasted on repetitive research, our legacy left behind would entirely be a replay of “If only…” and “I should have known…”


While our parents may have seemed like the greatest hurdle to our hopes and dreams as innocent or ignorant teenagers, their intentions were simply training us with the discipline and attitude to confront the other situations in life where the authoritative power may seem even more unfair or unrelenting. Like any long-run video game, there will always be another “Boss Battle” waiting with a character of higher strength and power. It is our attitude and our experience from the previous battles that help us understand the difference in power which will decide our future – survive or become defeated because of our position and title.