OPINION

Why does power go to some people's heads?

Mind Matters | Why does power go to some people's heads?

I recently completed training to be the fire warden for my office building floor. I volunteered because I already have a yellow, hard-plastic warden helmet in my office. I use it for decoration.

Another employee told me that I should never wear it during a fire, because it might melt on my head.

I have feeling, though, if I didn't have plastic melting up there during a fire, I would have my head melting.

I also have an orange tradie shirt given to me so that I would not get run over walking to work on the shoulder of a busy road.

Now I can picture myself doing semi-physical work in the shirt.

One day, I would like to wear the shirt and helmet and go colourfully from office to office laying down important rules.

No campfires in the building, no shooting fireworks in the building, and, above all else, no storing ammonium nitrate in the building.

That is the stuff that blew up a chunk of Beirut last year.

If I had been the Beirut fire warden, there would have been no catastrophe.

You may be aware of Lord Acton's saying that power corrupts.

At the time, he was thinking of the misdeeds of the Holy Roman Church during the Inquisition. Joan of Arc was not the only person to feel the awesome power of the church back then.

The rule of power corrupting still holds today. Will I be corrupted by my new power as fire warden? Possibly.

Research studies show a pattern for some individuals in which they rise in an organisation due to their conscientious and nice behaviour.

Once they get some power and feel the pressure from above and below, they can keep the conscientiousness but drop the niceness.

Dr Jekyll turns into Mr Hyde. Latent psychopathy becomes manifest. Ever seen that happen?

I don't envisage myself becoming a Hitler in a plastic helmet, but who knows? If I start calling my office the Wolf's Lair, you can be sure that I am on the wrong path.

On the positive side, thanks to excellent training, I now have confidence that I can use a fire extinguisher and save lives - in the right situation.

I am usually slow in responding to a crisis, however I would like to be a hero. So I reckon I would be effective in dealing with a small fire.

I am ready, with or without a helmet.

John Malouff is an Associate Professor at the School of Psychology, University of New England.

This story Mind Matters | Why does power go to some people's heads? first appeared on The Canberra Times.