The Power Paradox Book Summary, by Dacher Keltner

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1-Page Summary of The Power Paradox


The word “power” is used a lot, but it’s often unclear. Sometimes it means something bad; other times, something good.

Power corrupts, but it can also be used for good. To attain power, we must treat others with respect and compassion. We should not let our power go to our head because that would make us lose empathy toward others. Once lost, this ability is difficult to regain and the result may be a loss of influence over other people’s lives.

The following are the key points to understand about power: it can be used for good or bad; cancer patients use storytelling to empower themselves; writing down what you’re grateful for is important as well; and NBA players use encouragement to raise their teams.

Big Idea #1: Power is about changing lives and it plays a key role in everyday relationships and interactions.

What is power? Is it a mysterious force that only belongs to presidents, politicians and celebrities? The truth is, people use their power in everyday interactions. For example, parents have the power to motivate their children to do well at school or get them to eat vegetables.

Whenever someone uses influence to make a difference in the world, that’s power.

Thomas Clarkson’s story is a great example of the power of words. He was a student at Cambridge University when he won an essay contest about the horrors of slavery. At that time, most European economies relied on slave labor and millions were forcibly transported for their work.

Clarkson won a prestigious award for his essay on slavery. He then wrote many other pamphlets and letters about this subject, which convinced many people to stop buying sugar from British colonies that used slaves. Eventually, Parliament outlawed slavery in the British Empire. Clarkson used power to achieve a major change by influencing others with his writing skills and speaking abilities. We can also use our power of influence within relationships to make changes in our lives and the world around us. For example, we can use our relationship with siblings to improve ourselves as well as them.

During the early stages of life, an older sibling is usually more powerful and intelligent than a younger sibling. This power often leads them to seek positions of power in later life. It also makes them generally more traditional and conservative in their outlook. Younger siblings, on the other hand, are not exposed to this kind of situation and become more cooperative as they grow up.

Power is ubiquitous in the world. Scientists have studied how it’s used and what makes people powerful. In one study, psychologists observed a group of strangers who were asked to cooperate on solving a problem without being told anything about their roles or responsibilities. The scientists found that some participants naturally assumed power by offering opinions first, encouraging others, and so forth.

Big Idea #2: Those who improve the lives of others get power, and those who hold people back lose it.

There are a lot of opinions on social media these days, but the majority of Instagram users want to be influential in their social circle.

How can people gain influence? Research shows that it’s by improving the lives of others. The author made this discovery 20 years ago, when conducting an experiment at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

College students were surveyed about how much influence other students had on them. They filled out the survey again four months later and nine months after that, as well as rating their own levels of enthusiasm, kindness, focus, calmness and openness – categories known as “the Big Five social tendencies”

The Power Paradox Book Summary, by Dacher Keltner

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