“Right Makes Might”
Steve: Hey everybody. Steve and Dan Fouts here, and we are teaching different with American President Abraham Lincoln, with a thought-provoking quote about leadership. Here’s the quote. Right makes might. Shortest quote we have here. And maybe one of the most profound, because it takes a familiar phrase that we’re all used to, might makes right, and it turns it on its head. And it’s really dealing with the relationship between morality, doing the right thing, and having power and influence. And a lot of times those two things don’t go together very well. We’ve all had experiences where those in power make rules that are unfair. And we also have experiences of those who do the right things, that don’t always have the influence that maybe we think they deserve. But Abraham Lincoln inspires us with this quote. What claim do you see him making in this quote?
Dan: I think he’s deciding on the fact that morality is a powerful way to lead other people. By trying to do the right thing consistently kind of as a moral leader, and role model will be the best way to have influence over people, longterm and short term. And it is a fascinating way to think about things. Because by doing something right, or what you perceive as the morally right thing, you’re allowing other people to look at you as somebody who cares more about good and bad, rather than their own self interest as a leader. And that makes you want to follow that leader more.
Dan: It makes you think it’s not all about him or her. It’s about what’s right. And that has amazing influence over others.
Steve: And I’m thinking of, as far as getting the students to share an experience that they have in seeing right and wrong at play with power, you can always bring up something like bullying, where every student has seen another student be taken advantage of by someone else who has more power, or at least some more perceived power at that moment. And how they react to that, and how others react to it who witness it, says a lot about who everyone is. And when a student stands up and maybe confronts the bully or goes and reports the incident a person in authority, that really shows that being right and doing right thing can have power. Because students look up to other students who stand up to injustice. They love that feeling that there are people in the world that care about that. And I think that that’s a persuasive way of acting. You’re going to think about…
Dan: I agree. And think about, if one of your friends has your back and make sure that you’re taken care of, that person does something bad to you, and you know your friend has your back. I mean that friend has incredible influence over you. Because of how they lead by example in doing the right thing.
Steve: Yes. And bullying, I think is a really good example to bring up to bring these ideas out. Let’s do a counterclaim to this.
Dan: Well, if you’re in a position of authority, what you say goes. What you say, is right. And it’s right, because you’re in the position of authority. I mean, the first thing that pops into my head from a parent perspective is, when parents get frustrated with their children, this has happened to me before, where you kind of just say, “Look, I need you to do this because I said you need to do it. It’s right because I said so.” It’s sort of that way of thinking, which in some cases, depending on what it is, is an appropriate way to lead. You can’t challenge all authority all the time. Sometimes you just have to accept that what you’re being told is what you have to follow, and is right.
Steve: And what you hope in those cases, is that the leader has your best interests at heart. And you trust the leader to make rules that you have to follow. That’s the ideal case. And then sometimes you’ll get rules where you don’t like them. But because you trust the leader, it works out okay.
Dan: That’s a great point. You have to trust the leader to have your best interests in mind. And going back to the claim, you also have to trust that in that sense that the leader is doing the morally right thing. So trust is going to be important in both settings.
Steve: It does. And again, the frustrating part for many students is, I think that they perceive those in power sometimes not caring about what’s right and wrong. They like that feeling of power. We have a great conversation in the library by John Adams about this idea that power should never be trusted without a check. And our founding fathers really believe that power itself was something that was so infectious, that we need to find ways to check it because everyone will abuse it once they have it.
Dan: Right. In other words, our leaders won’t always follow right makes might, in the Lincoln sense.
Steve: Yeah, exactly.
Steve: They do that. Yeah.
Steve: Here’s the essential question you could use to wrap up what is going to be definitely a vibrant conversation. Is doing the right thing, the best way to influence others? And this will get at the heart of this idea of morality, good and bad, and how it relates to power and influence. Some students aren’t going to think they’re related. But after a conversation like this, you’ll be able to get them to reflect on this, and become more conscious of whether or not it’s possible that power could be infused with right and wrong and morality. And maybe power even gets stronger when the leader is doing the right thing.
Dan: Yeah. And I was just going to go there where these students, they’re going to be leaders one day. And many of them are already leaders. So they have important decisions to make on how they want to lead others, to get others to see them with credibility, and for them to be able to be influenced. I mean, these are so important to think about before you occupy positions of authority.
Steve: Absolutely. Hope you enjoyed Abraham Lincoln this week. Make sure you sign up for free weekly conversation starters. We’ll give you a conversation every week, and you can use the conversation with your students. And then if you want some more resources and access to our library of conversations, which we have videos, we have guides, and we have everything you really need to make it a routine, having these conversations in the classroom, definitely sign up for our Teach Different society. Take care, everybody. We will talk to you soon.
Dan: Alright. Take care.