Optimistic Futurist: Influencing power

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 30, 2014

What is the difference in the meaning between “power” and “influence”? How does that difference play out in improving society in ways we can be thankful for?

Remember how you felt when a uniformed officer of the law told you that you had done a bad thing— you were speeding, or making too much noise and upsetting your neighbors, or stealing. … Whatever you did, you knew in your rational mind that you better not do it again—or else.

Or else what?

Here is where the “power” comes in. If you don’t shape up, you can be punished whether you like it or not. Fines can be collected, jail time imposed, rights to carry weapons or vote taken away—all because the policeman and the legal system have power. The will of society can legally be imposed on you.

Compare that to “influence.” Influence is not imposed on you—you surrender to it voluntarily. When you go to church (voluntarily) and agree to accept certain conditions and constraints on your behavior (voluntarily), you are submitting to influence. If your church takes a position that you do not like, you can move to another congregation where beliefs more align with your own. The same could be said when you consult your accountant or lawyer or doctor. They cannot make you do what they say—they can only suggest it. If you don’t like one doctor’s advice, you can go to another.

As we look back at the tides of social change in our society, we frequently see “power“ used to enforce the status quo, and “influence” is frequently used to change it. Examples are everywhere in our history.

Legal slavery ended only after volunteers responding to a higher moral case influenced the formation of underground railways and emancipation.

Early efforts by women to gain the right to vote resulted in the movement’s leaders being whipped and imprisoned for decades before those in “power” were pursued to change.

In the United States less than 80 years ago, children as young as eight labored 15-18 hours a day, seven days a week. Child labor ended only after volunteer community leaders struggled for more than 30 years to influence a new view.

The Civil Rights movement of the 1970s was led by unknowns who gained influence as they repeated over and over their message. The influential leader spoke, and thousands and thousands of voluntary members of the movement followed.

Often the forces of influence clashed with the forces of power —those of you of  “a certain age” can recall the awful videos of Alabama Sheriff Bull Connor legally unleashing dogs on crowds of volunteer followers marching peacefully with Dr. King as they sought the end to legal segregation.
Even the Thanksgiving holiday itself reflects the effects of influence. A magazine writer and activist named Sarah Hale began a campaign in 1827 to have a unified national day where thanks were given. She preached, wrote, organized, and recruited volunteer followers. Her efforts spanned 31 years and finally resulted in a declaration by President Lincoln who responded to Ms. Halle’s influence (and that of her followers) using his power to establish a national holiday.

On Thanksgiving, in many households the families and guests hold hands around the table and give thanks for the blessings bestowed on them. Unfortunately, they forget that many of those blessings were not “bestowed”—volunteers worked for decades to create a more just society, often clashing with those in “power”.


As you join that circle of hands, you may wish to reflect on your own life and your investment of your life energy.   Will coming generations be thanking you for your contribution to the quality of their life?


 Francis Koster lives in Kannapolis.

To see the sources of facts used in this article, and learn of other successful money and life saving programs that can be implemented locally to create a better future for our country, go to www.TheOptimisticFuturist.org.