Power: Hard and Soft

Power can be divided into two basic kinds: hard and soft. Hard power is easy to see because of the material content such as money, land, army, guns, bombs, high status, and so on. Despite its impressiveness, hard power has limited effects if one does not know how to combine it with soft power. In many instances, hard power is easily defeated by wits and determination, which are two forms of soft power. As we have seen, a poor person can outsmart a rich dumb guy anytime. A small country can defeat a superpower by cleverly drawing it into a quagmire of attrition.

Where does soft power come from? Soft power consists of all the potential talents that will produce long-lasting impacts when being developed. The following is a listing of eight sources that I think are fundamental for the development of soft power:
*Good health that makes productive work possible.
*Able to adapt and innovate when facing adverse conditions.
*Question conventional wisdom and apply common sense.
*Determination and will power to conquer problems.
*Cultivate good relationships with others who can help you succeed.
*Employ your education and experience effectively.
*Able to see and reason out the truth rather than being a blind follower.
*Exercise restraint and kindness after you have acquired power.

Soft power originates from within the individual, not from without. When a community of people has succeeded in developing a similar kind of soft power, a synergy is created that is much greater than the sum of its parts. This synergy is an accumulating force that propels a nation to greatness. Synergy gives birth to progress in society in the form of creativity, innovation, and technological prowess. On the other hand, this synergy can also explode into a sudden force that overthrows the existing system or convention, as evidenced by revolution, social movement, and attitude shift.

Among the eight sources of soft power listed earlier, the first five are quite straightforward. The remaining three require further explanation as follows:

First, people employ their knowledge in varying degrees of effectiveness. The reason is that each person is uniquely different. A book read by many people will carry many different interpretations. Likewise, no two persons have the same experience and derive the same insight from life. Thus soft power depends on how much you make use of your education and experience, not what level of education you have attained in school.

Second, what do we mean by truth? Simply speaking, truth means reality. Since reality changes with time and circumstances, so does truth. If you do not go after the truth constantly, you tend to live in a bubble or illusion. The biggest illusion in history is probably the age-old belief that the earth is flat. In the old times when people believed that the earth was flat, it slowed down knowledge and hampered progress.

Do you agree that truth is the greatest soft power? Absolutely! That’s what people are pursuing everyday even though they may seem chasing after money, a form of hard power. To illustrate, scientists try to find the physical truth. Writers and artists try to express the truth in their thoughts. Innovators try to apply the truth they’ve discovered to make better products. Entrepreneurs try to capitalize on the truth they’ve found about the marketplace.

Of all the things you see and hear everyday, how many are half-truths and non-truths? Nearly all of them! Your empowerment depends on how much half-truth or non-truth you find and reject everyday. The more you need to reject, the more soft power you will accumulate. It may sound strange, but discovering truth is a process of trial and error. You never find the whole truth the first time because our world is so complex. You start by questioning the half-truths and non-truths you hear and see everyday.

Third, this is the source leading to the demise of power. The erosion of power begins when you forget about restraint and kindness. The temptation is great for power abuse once you acquire it, which will start you on the path of self-destruction. The most well known case is probably Watergate in 1974 when Nixon was forced to resign the US Presidency because of blatant power abuse. The implosion of communism is another example of power abuse lasting for decades.

Those achieving power will exert influence because others want to emulate them. Furthermore, they will achieve the high prize of admiration if they show others that they are capable of restraint and kindness given the power they possess and the influence they exert. Failing those, the erosion of power begins, because power corrupts the individual who does not exercise it with care.

(March 2011)

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