Powerful? Well, Hardly!

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With age comes the increasing impression that this is Wonderland, and I am Alice — well, Al. Much of what I see all around me seems irrelevant, sometimes so remarkably so that I don’t know whether or laugh, cry, or just shrug it off. Consider this list of names:

  1. Condoleezza Rice
  2. Wu Yi
  3. Yulia Tymoshenko
  4. Gloria Arroyo
  5. Margaret Whitman
  6. Anne Mulcahy
  7. Sallie Krawcheck
  8. Brenda Barnes
  9. Oprah Winfrey
  10. Melinda Gates

I stumbled across this roster on the internet. It purports to be the ten most powerful women in the world. No, don’t laugh. It really said that! And I don’t even know who most of them are. Sure, I recognize the names of Condoleezza Rice and Oprah Winfrey. I’m guessing that Melinda Gates is the wife of Bill, but I don’t know for sure, or care.

What confuses, or amuses, or aggravates, is the concept of "most powerful." Does that mean that these women have the greatest power to affect the lives of the most people? Although their names, for the most part, mean nothing to me, I assume that these women are famous, at least to the cognoscenti. Are we to believe that the world turns on the activities of the famous? Actually, the world positively lurched at the activity of a total nonentity named Gavrilo Princip. Have you heard of him? He shot the Archduke Ferdinand, and thus, according to history, launched World War I. Or how about Charles Guiteau? Remember him? He killed President Garfield. Leon Czolgosz shot President McKinley to death. Their actions had repercussions to an extent that we may never know, but assuredly, their names would never have appeared on a list of Most Powerful People! No doubt you are familiar with the name of Mary Mallon. You probably remember her as Typhoid Mary. Powerful? Well, if you don’t exist today, it may be because someone who would have been one of your ancestors died of typhoid spread by Mary Mallon! In that case, read no further.

The important women in my life, as best I can tell, are the ones that I’ve actually met. So far as I know, nothing Condoleezza Rice has done, at least to date, has affected me in any perceptible way. I would have to rate her importance as provisional, or potential. On the other hand, my mother was a profoundly powerful influence on me as a boy. So, I guess, was yours. After Mom would be the nuns that taught us at St. Gabriel school, in St. Louis. They weren’t especially learned or sophisticated, but we learned what we needed to know. I recall seeing, only a few years ago, a bit of a play on TV as I was flipping through the channels. A man was in great emotional distress, moaning, "What’s it all about? What’s the meaning of life, anyway?" Poor guy! I clicked him off. The good sisters had taught us the meaning of life in the 4th grade!

Today, of course, my wife is the important woman in my life, so much more powerful in her effect upon my very existence that the names on the list fade into nothingness by comparison. After 46 years, I cannot imagine life without her, as, indeed, I could not after a single year. Wu Yi and Sallie Krawcheck — whoever they are — aren’t in the running.

It’s so easy to believe that important things are done by powerful people. But people — just ordinary people — can, and do, bring about changes in the lives of others without knowing it, or intending it. In truth, we are all "powerful" people, even if we don’t see ourselves on magazine covers, or our names on lists of nabobs. And the people who exert an influence upon our lives, that we can readily see and appreciate, aren’t famous or powerful; they’re our family, neighbors, co-workers, friends. You, dear reader, are a more powerful and important person to me than Brenda Barnes — whoever she is!

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is a retired ophthalmologist in St. Louis, and the author of All Work & No Pay.

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