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Power means the ability to do something, to exert strength or force, to direct or influence the behavior of others, or to influence the outcome of events. Sages have expressed a variety of opinions about power and when it is a virtue, when it is a vice, and when it is a neutral tool.

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Power is the flower of organization.

— A. Philip Randolph

Smoking dope and hanging up Che’s picture is no more a commitment than drinking milk and collecting postage stamps. A revolution in consciousness is an empty high without a revolution in the distribution of power.

— Abbie Hoffman

If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.

— Abigail Adams

Friends, I agree with you in Providence; but I believe in the Providence of the most men, the largest purse, and the longest cannon. [1854]

— Abraham Lincoln

These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert, to fleece the people.

— Abraham Lincoln

I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country … corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow.

— Abraham Lincoln

The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act, as the destroyer of liberty. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails today among human creatures.

— Abraham Lincoln, (attributed)

[I]n such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, not to be on the side of the executioners.

— Albert Camus

If we perpetuate the same dynamics that we aim to disrupt in our movements for change, we are not interrupting power and we are not creating change –we are merely rebranding the same set of practices and the same dysfunctions.

— Alicia Garza, The Purpose of Power

The world that we imagine will not come into existence if we are not courageous enough to challenge power where it operates at the largest scale, impacting the lives of millions, even billions of people.

— Alicia Garza, The Purpose of Power

Power is what calls the shots, and power is a white male game.

— Ann Richards

Authority without wisdom is like a heavy axe without an edge, fitter to bruise than polish.

— Anne Bradstreet

Your problem is how you are going to spend this one and precious life you have been issued. Whether you’re going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are.

— Anne Lamott

Those lower in rank revolt in order that they may be equal and those higher in rank that they may be superior. Such is the state of mind which creates revolutions.

— Aristotle

To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.

— Arundhati Roy, The Cost of Living

When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.

— Audre Lorde

We are powerful because we have survived.

— Audre Lorde

The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never allow us to bring about genuine change.

— Audre Lorde

No one is in control of your happiness but you; therefore, you have the power to change anything about yourself or your life that you want to change.

— Barbara de Angelis

There is a strong moralistic strain in the civil rights movement that would remind us that power corrupts, forgetting that the absence of power also corrupts.

— Bayard Rustin

Sometimes people try to destroy you, precisely because they recognize your power — not because they don’t see it, but because they see it and they don’t want it to exist.

— bell hooks

There are two ways of exerting one’s strength: one is pushing down, the other is pulling up.

— Booker T. Washington

I understand that I don’t do what I do because it is required or necessary or important. I don’t do it because I have no choice. I do what I do because I’m broken too. My years of struggling against inequality, abusive power, poverty, oppression and injustice had finally revealed something in me about myself. Being close to suffering, death, executions, and cruel punishments didn’t just illuminate the brokenness of others; in a moment of anguish, it also exposed my own brokenness. You can’t effectively fight abusive power, poverty, inequality, illness, oppression, or injustice and not be broken by it.

— Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy

One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. The bamboozle has captured us. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.

— Carl Sagan

If we can’t think for ourselves, if we’re unwilling to question authority, then we’re just putty in the hands of those in power. But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us. In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness.

— Carl Sagan

I felt like power meant that you had to be engaged in a certain kind of struggle by force of movement and battle – and that’s very exhausting. Now, power is more about certainty and stillness and realizing that the infrastructures that we gather around and worship are the least powerful things.

— Carrie Brownstein

All the lessons of history in four sentences:
Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad with power.
The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly small.
The bee fertilizes the flower it robs.
When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.

— Charles A. Beard

Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.

— Colin Powell

The woman power of this nation can be the power which makes us whole and heals the rotten community, now so shattered by war and poverty and racism. I have great faith in the power of women who will dedicate themselves whole-heartedly to the task of remaking our society.

— Coretta Scott King

Part of the reason [motherly advice] bugs us as daughters is because our mothers are so powerful in our lives. They loom like giants. The reason mothers keep at it is because they’re so powerless. They cannot get you to do what is so obvious to them you should do.

— Deborah Tannen
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Image from Adobe, under license.

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