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Power Causes Brain Damage

Updated: May 4, 2020

by Rosie Snow


According to a 2017 article in The Atlantic*, multiple studies have shown that power can cause brain damage. People who feel powerful and particularly people who have been in power for a long time, lose the ability to sympathize with the people around them. They lose the ability to read others or relate to them, and lose the mirroring behaviors associated with empathy. And the issue only escalates: “Less able to make out people’s individuating traits, they rely more heavily on stereotype. And the less they’re able to see, other research suggests, the more they rely on a personal “vision” for navigation.”

It is unfortunate though also unsurprising, that those with most power over others may become neurologically unable to receive feedback from the world, instead barreling ahead with their own increasingly out-of-touch view of reality. Theologically, though, this is fascinating to me. Christianity is so much about overcoming destructive power structures, and replacing them with love. Now we know that destructive power exerts itself on a neurological level, reinforced by experience and ultimately damaging those experiencing it. Jesus understood this, and disrupted this structure by teaching his disciples to practice love in solidarity.

Humility, according to the research, can be an antidote to the brain damage that power causes. And nothing is more humbling than to experience the incredible power of Love as we live in service to each other, growing into loving relationship with all that surrounds us. Jesus wants to disrupt destructive structures that exist across societies and synapses, and welcome us all into the healing, humbling love of God.

With love, Rosie

*Jerry Useem, “Power Causes Brain Damage,” The Atlantic, July/August 2017 Issue

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