My favorite article in last week's parade of otherwise mostly shlocky pop-psych articles and talk show expertise about "why powerful men cheat" was this brief Wired piece. It manages to forego the hand wringing and forehead wrinkling over evolutionary seed planting and instead sticks with good old citable research with relevant results.
The piece presents three studies. The first finds that people who feel empowered are less likely to consider another person's perspective. The second study finds that people who felt more powerful had stronger feelings about cheating (with money, not wives), but were also more likely to cheat when given the chance. Thirdly we learn about an analysis of Supreme Court rulings that concludes that becoming part of a majority coalition narrows and simplifies one's perspective.
Of course, you never want to fall into the trap of thinking we're powerless against our own psychology, but still, interesting, right?
When I read it, one thing in particular came to mind: Senator Ensign's "Farewell to the Senate" (pdf) speech earlier this month. After bragging about some accomplishments and thanking some people he gets to the mea culpa. Tell me if you don't recognize the above studies:
When I first arrived in the Senate, I observed several people who were so caught up in their own self-importance and busyness that arrogance literally dripped from them. Unfortunately, they were blind to it, and everyone could see it but them. When one takes a position of leadership, there is a very real danger of getting caught up in the hype surrounding that status. Oftentimes, the more power and prestige a person achieves, the more arrogant a person can become.
As easy as it was for me to view this in other people, unfortunately, I was blind to how arrogant and self-centered I had become. I did not recognize that I thought mostly of myself. The worst part about this is that I even tried not to become caught up in my own selfimportance. Unfortunately, the urge to believe in it was stronger than the power to fight it. This is how dangerous the feeling of power and adulation can be.
My caution to all of my colleagues is to surround yourselves with people who will be honest with you about how you really are and what you are becoming, and then make them promise to not hold back no matter how much you may try to prevent them from telling you the truth. I wish I had done this sooner, but this is one of the hardest lessons I have had to learn. I believe that if I had learned this lesson earlier, I would have prevented myself from judging two of my colleagues when I had no place to do so.
When I was chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, I was confronted with the personal issues facing Senator Larry Craig and Senator Ted Stevens. Following Larry's admission and Ted's guilty verdict, I too believed in the power of my leadership position, and I called on both of them to resign.