What is Power?

December 30, 2022

Isabella Wen (she/her), Low Entropy Volunteer Writer



What is power?  

Some people say power is the ability to control others. Some say that wealth is power, since money runs the world after all. Perhaps power is physical strength or enamouring beauty.  


But at its core, what is power?


The other day a friend of mine ranted to me about how they wish they had the power to change what people thought about a certain author. That their opinions were wrong, that they have too much influence over young children. 


Another friend was upset that a certain politician was spreading false views, but that a different politician that they believe in is correct, and therefore had more power and influence. 


And yet another person wished people would stop giving the new internet sensation, Andrew Tate, a platform. A form of social power. 


Lastly, someone told me they wished that powerful people would turn their attention to the current housing market issues. Stating, “If I had the power to decide, the problem would be fixed really quick!” 

Conversations about power, control, and influence circulate around us each day. 


But what is power? How do we obtain power?  


There is a famous riddle from A Song of Ice and Fire that interests me quite a bit. It presents a situation where four people are stuck in a room. The four people are a King, a priest, a wealthy man, and a sellsword. The sellsword must kill two of them. Each person says to kill the other two people. The king argues that he is the ruler of the kingdom, his wish is the sellsword’s command. The priest argues that if he is killed, the sellsword will go to hell. The wealthy man offers plenty of money if he decides to kill the other two people. 


Who does the sellsword kill? 


Some say it is the King because he is the ruler of the kingdom. Some say the priest because he symbolizes God. Lastly, the wealthy man is a popular choice because many value money overall. 

So, what do you think? The option you choose reflects your beliefs. 


Power does not exist without bias. 


The answer to the riddle is it is the sellsword’s decision. If the sellsword believed in God and feared going to hell, he’d kill the King and the wealthy man, and so on. The sellsword has the power.  


Real power is choice.  


Real power is the ability to make a decision and the ability to choose who to support or choose who to disagree with. What to believe or what to disregard.  


Whether we believe that a certain politician or celebrity has power, we are giving them the power through influence and belief.  


We as people decide who holds power. We as people decide who to shun and who to put on a pedestal. We all have power. Power to choose and the power to make a difference through supporting what we value. Power to give people a platform for their voices. 


A study called the French and Raven (1959) model, explored the idea of there being 5 types of social power.  


First, Legitimate – This comes from the belief that a person has the formal right to make demands and to expect others to be compliant and obedient. 

Reward – This results from one person’s ability to compensate another for compliance. 

Expert – This is based on a person’s high levels of skill and knowledge. 

Referent – This is the result of a person’s perceived attractiveness, worthiness and right to others’ respect. 

Coercive – This comes from the belief that a person can punish others for noncompliance. 


Six years later, Raven added an extra power base: 

Informational – This results from a person’s ability to control the information that others need to accomplish something (definitions from mindtools.com). 


Sure, each representation of power from the beginning of the article, or from my many acquaintance’s remarks, are included here. Still, the study also explores how each social power has different effects and efficiency. What type of person are you? How do you interpret each method? What works on you? 


Power does not exist without bias. 


We control, we have power. We just have to recognize that and use it.   



Isabella is a student in British Columbia. She enjoys reading, all kinds of music, meeting new people, and long walks in the park. She loves her family and friends who inspire her to work harder and pursue her dreams. Isabella owes much of her passion for writing to her older brother who always inspired her to nurture her writing hobby.

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