This post may have nothing to do with China. It may have everything to do with China. I write about something which has happened to me in the past that made me think a lot about power, and I guess I had to write it down.
At the beginning of this year, I was new to China, and I had no friends. I am a person who wants friends, so I did all I could to find them. Our building, where boys and girls, Chinese and international students live together, is a pioneer in China, but it is very small (130 people). To me all of them were potential friends, so for two months I said hi to everyone I met. No, I went further than that. I had a conversation with everyone I met indiscriminately. My friend said it was a nightmare to go for dinner with me, because I would talk to so many people on the way downstairs!
One day I was asked by the person in charge of the building to join a team who would organise activities for the rest of the residents over the year, and that was about when I realised that I had stood out to him, completely by accident. I began to notice that almost everyone I met would say ‘Hi, Grace’ to me and I wouldn’t know their names. But they knew mine. This was probably the first time in my life I had some power over a fair group of people. I could influence them. Was this my own quality, or was this the environment I lived in? I don’t know.
Anyway I know, as soon as I realised I had this power, something changed. Suddenly, I decided that absolutely EVERYONE in the building must know my name. That I must talk to EVERYBODY and make them feel interested in me.When others wanted to organise activities, I became controlling. If I found out things were going on in the building that I didn’t know about, I became paranoid. I am not a competitive person, and I don’t take charge without encouragement. But the knowledge that I had this power seemed to change me. There was a party which a girl and I were supposed to organise together, but actually she just did what I said. We planned the party and we bought the stuff together, but I publicised it and I decided what to buy. She planned some games to play at the party, but it never happened. For me, it wasn’t OUR party. Sixty people came. I had done that. Not ‘us’. Half of them were her friends.
Shortly after the party, I broke down (embarrassingly) in front of the guys opposite. I didn’t even know what I was upset about until I realised. I was lonely. I felt I didn’t have close friends, because I was so busy making everyone my friend. So, as easily as I had made a name for myself, I became invisible. I stopped saying hi and I stopped organising anything at all, and stepped away from the power I had once had, to look after myself instead.
What did I learn? That power is easily attainable . All you need is to make each individual feel special , that you care about them individually. That you become popular, and popularity is power. That I can fake it, and that I am good at it. That I don’t manage well with power, that it turns me into something I am not. I think those guys would follow me if I invested time to persuade them to. I would always be someone they remembered, but not someone they cared about. That is power.