“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Robert Ingersoll
SEL Connection: Power is one of those philosophical themes that every student can connect with on a certain level. That’s because, beyond the family, school is the first place where students are made to live under a power structure. They have teachers and administrators with the power to tell them what to do and how to do it. They have coaches directing them on the playing field.
And then the students themselves occupy positions of power– on school leadership teams making decisions on how to organize assemblies, run fundraisers and prepare for the prom. Students are captains of teams and leaders of clubs. They are keen to observe how they themselves behave with power– and are quick to call out those who wield it inappropriately without a sense of justice. There is fertile ground here.
(1) Claim: Ingersoll is saying that if a person is granted authority over others, that person’s true character is exposed. Perhaps that’s because with authority comes freedom of action. All of a sudden a person has power he/she didn’t have before and the so the horizon of possible actions expands accordingly. This freedom tests people’s ethical impulses.
(2) Counterclaim: That being said, Ingersoll seems to diminish the importance of a person’s capacity to endure hard times. Maybe that is an even better way to test character. Think about it. As we watch a person suffer through difficulty, we learn a lot about what that person values in life. Consider the person who studies all semester in a very difficult class, never gives up, and decides in the end the hard work to achieve a goal was of more importance than cheating to get a grade. We believe these types of people have strong characters with rock solid values. So, suffering through adversity is a great way to test character which is not to be discounted.
(3) Essential Question: Is giving power the best way to reveal somebody’s character? or you could take an ethical angle… If you can cut corners to achieve power, should you?