Are You Chasing Power?
- Wednesday, February 04, 2009
During my junior year at Wake Forest University, I had my own sports interview show, much like the three different weekly radio shows I have in Orlando today. I got to interview many of my sports idols, including Ted Williams, Arnold Palmer, Harmon Killebrew and Roger Maris. But my favorite interview was with a man who was not a sports figure at all: Dr. Billy Graham. The evangelist was on the Wake Forest campus to speak at a chapel service, so I brought him into my studio to talk about sports. He turned out to be very knowledgeable and had played a lot of baseball in his youth. He was personally acquainted with quite a few athletes, and he gave me one of my best interviews ever.
Over the years, I have met and spoken with Dr. Graham a number of times, and I was honored to speak at two of his crusades in Chicago and Syracuse. My respect for him has deepened over the years. While working on this book, I was pleased to have as a guest on my Orlando radio show Michael Duffy, who coauthored a book with Nancy Gibbs, The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House. The book explores Dr. Graham’s unique place in history as a friend and adviser to 11 presidents, from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush.
Dr. Graham counseled and prayed with presidents during times of crisis. He talked to President Eisenhower during the integration battles in the South—and he also answered Eisenhower’s question, “How can I know that I’m going to heaven?” He knelt in prayer with both LBJ and Nixon during the era of Vietnam and campus unrest—and he dealt with Johnson’s question, “Will I see my parents in heaven?” President Clinton even used Dr. Graham as a back-channel courier to convey a message to Kim Il Sung, urging the North Korean dictator to allow UN inspectors into his nuclear sites.
I asked Michael Duffy why Dr. Graham befriended the presidents. Duffy replied, “Billy Graham was not tempted by money. And he was not tempted to be unfaithful to his wife. But when Nancy Gibbs and I interviewed him, Dr. Graham told us very candidly that his weakness was power. We all have different areas of temptation and struggle, and that was Dr. Graham’s weak spot. He was drawn to power and he enjoyed being around powerful people.”
Duffy told me that Dr. Graham admitted crossing the line from spiritual adviser to political adviser in his friendship with Richard Nixon. This, Graham said, was a big mistake. When he realized that Nixon had been dishonest about the Watergate affair, Dr. Graham realized that he could be deceived and seduced by political power, and that this weakness threatened his witness as an evangelist. From then on, Dr. Graham made a commitment to serve purely as a spiritual counselor, and to leave politics to the politicians.
The fact that Dr. Graham recognized his susceptibility to the lure of power—and took steps to guard against it—only increased my longstanding respect for him. Few people have the strength of character to resist the seductive charms of power. Most people, given access to the most powerful man in the world, could not help being corrupted by it.
Power, like fire, is a very useful tool—and one that can easily bemisused.
The Sweet Smell of White Marble
Power is the ability to influence or control other people so that they do what you want. In its most beneficial sense, power is one of the tools of leadership. A wise leader can use the personal power of persuasion to inspire a group of people to move together as one in order to achieve a lofty goal. But power can also take the form of raw force and intimidation, as in a totalitarian dictatorship.
Why do people chase power? The reasons behind our obsession with power are rooted in our common human needs and drives. Some of us seek power in order to inflate our egos and make us feel significant. Some seek power out of a desperate need to be known and admired by others. Some of us seek it because we are basically insecure, and controlling others makes us feel safe. Some seek power as a means of attaining the other three false values that people chase: money, fame and pleasure.
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