What does it mean to be powerful? Most of us think of powerful people as being either captains of industry, politicians, or the extremely wealthy. From among that group my first exposure to such a person was a man from hometown named Bill Heatly who was during his time indisputably our town’s most notable citizen. He was not only well known locally but throughout the State of Texas having served in the state legislature for twenty-eight consecutive years (1955-1983) where he wielded significant power during his tenure in office, attaining the nickname the “Duke of Paducah”, a reference to our hometown of Paducah, Texas. One of my university professors during the late 1960’s, a renowned expert in Texas politics, once said he believed Mr. Heatly to be the most powerful figure in the Texas government, more so even than the governor at that time.
I happened to have known Bill Heatly quite well as a neighbor, family friend, and being buddies with his youngest son. Having spent time around him I can attest that he was a man who exuded power. It was true he had a keen sense of how to develop and maintain a strong influential power base and how to use it to accomplish his goals, and during his heyday he did a great deal of good for the constituents within his legislative district as well as the citizens of the State of Texas. But like most powerful people he had his share of enemies, those who opposed and disagreed with him, people who accused him of being ruthless, manipulative and self-serving. Arguably he was a man capable of using his power against someone who crossed him as much as helping someone in need.
What does it mean, though, to be powerful? I thought about that this past week when I stopped myself from saying something that could have been harmful and hurtful to another person. It caused me to shutter to think I have that kind of power. But it also made me realize I have the power to say and do things that can help and encourage others as well. So what makes you and me any different from politicians like Bill Heatly, or the titans of industry or people of extreme wealth? Nothing really except that the size of our circle of influence may be smaller, but the power we have within that circle is no different. We all have the capacity to choose how we use our power, to influence good or to inflict harm. It is not just the “powerful” who are powerful, you see, we all are. The question we must ask ourselves – each and every day – is how will we use it?