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Sun 28 Mar 2010 12:55 PM

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Power reveals

What’s the old axiom… power corrupts? I prefer Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s version: power reveals.

What’s the old axiom… power corrupts? I prefer Mayor of London and classical scholar Boris Johnson’s version: power reveals. Because power, ultimately, abrogates social convention and construct.

Those who enjoy it are freer than those who don’t to behave exactly as they wish; the degree of freedom is directly proportional to the extent of the power. Britain’s King Henry VIII founded a new church so he could marry again, Elton John each year spends over a half a million dollars on flowers to decorate his houses because he “likes flowers”. Fashions, norms, convention, even laws – the powerful set them, the rest of us follow them.

This rule applies from the playground to the office to the playing field to the boardroom to government, and everywhere in between. True power is freedom – and freedom reveals character.

Was Tiger Woods corrupted by his power in sport, or did the freedom he enjoyed as a result of it allow him to express himself in ways a less powerful man could only dream about? In other words, if instead of being the world’s best golfer and first billionaire sportsman he worked in a shop selling shoes, would he still be claiming to have the ludicrous, and fictional, condition of “sex-addiction”?

With Wood’s power came amplified opportunity – his response to that opportunity revealed him, eventually, to the world.

History seems littered with far more powerful men and women who have showed themselves ultimately to be venal and self-serving and weak than it is with those who have held power blamelessly and with dignity.

You need only open a newspaper to read of politicians taking bribes, or massive corporations behaving illegally, or major celebrities letting themselves down. The simple reason (or excuse) for this is that we are all of us weak – puny fallen weaklings in the face of temptation. But is it fact that there are more bad guys than good in the power stakes? I am not so sure. Perhaps it is just the misdeeds of the few are shrieked about more volubly by the media than are the good works or responsibility of the majority. Not all in power are corrupt. Far from it.

You might not agree with the politics of high profile examples Bono or Bill Gates, but both are trying to exert heavy influence for good, through major good works and philanthropy. Both enjoy great opportunity and freedom, and have done for many years, but we don’t hear of scandal or corruption. The opposite.

Without wanting to jinx it, the men and women on this year’s Power List have largely avoided scandal – rather they have reputations as people of integrity and distinction. Prince Alwaleed, top of the pops for the sixth year in succession, has over his lifetime given more than $2.5bn to charitable causes.

’s Mohammed Alabbar has devoted his career to creating the buildings that are putting his city on the map and providing luxurious accommodation for hundreds of thousands of people. Adel Ali, the enormous force of nature behind
Air Arabia

– the Gulf’s first low cost carrier – has made it his mission to provide a means of travel for millions of people throughout this region.

There are scientists in the list who have dedicated their lives to making breakthroughs that will benefit humanity, novelists who are challenging the conventions of the societies they live in, poets, policy makers and athletes.

We hope that you enjoy reading the list as much as we have enjoyed compiling it, and that all of the chosen - and those who narrowly missed the cut - who are doing so much to burnish the reputation of Arabs everywhere - enjoy considerable success in their respective endeavours between now and next year’s list.

Power reveals – and everyone looks.

Damian Reilly is the editor of Arabian Business English.

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