“There is a devil creeps into men when their hands are strengthened.”
Gertrude Stein wrote those words in the libretto of an opera about Susan B. Anthony. She wrote them as the ashes cooled following World War II, which she and Alice B. Toklas had lived out in the kind embrace of the French countryside. This was their second world war in their adopted French homeland. Obviously, Stein had power and the way men use it very much on her mind.
As I read her lines, in the aftermath of a nasty national election and the gamesmanship of the fiscal cliff debacle, the ugly ways of power were fresh in my mind, too.
Of course, in Stein’s day most power did rest in the hands of men. That is less true today. And I’m sure a devil creeps into women, as well, when their hands are strengthened. Maybe that was more the case when women first began to demand and own their power. We’ve all heard horror stories about women bosses. Sometimes the devil creeps in and sometimes the devil does wear Prada.
My experience today is different.
In my experience today, women wear their power well.
The women of power I know most often use their power to empower other women. They have learned that power, like love, grows stronger when it’s spread around, when it’s shared, when it’s used to lift up rather than hold down.
I know more powerful women than I have ever known in my life. They are leaders in business and leaders in life and leaders in public service. They give and they collaborate and they connect and by all rights they should be running the world.
A few men I know are learning to manage their power differently. They’re smart. Because once a devil creeps in, the strength in the hand begins to weaken. When power is shared, on the other hand, something remarkably like love creeps in. And love, like a woman, is way stronger than it gets credit for being.