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OnWords: Authority vs. Power

“Authority” is a word we associate with positions of power. Authority in this sense comes from the role you fill, not from the personal qualities you possess.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, though, authority’s Latin root means, among other things, to originate, to promote, to increase or make grow.

At its origins, authority is distinct from power, but it can embody its own kind of power.

If we honor the roots of the word, anyone who is promoting, originating, or increasing a thing or idea is an authority. The power in being an authority, then, is in what you do, not who you are or the office you hold.

In other words, while power is something you wield, authority is something you demonstrate.

So why do we still believe that having power will make you an authority?

It might be because our academic and economic systems work very hard to regulate who can claim authority.

Thought of this way, acts of originality and growth by ordinary people--authority at the grassroots, if you will--can also be acts of subversion against dominant systems of power.

What acts of authority are you willing to commit today?

Lael Ewy is a co-founder and editor of EastWesterly Review, a journal of literary satire at www.postmodernvillage.com, and a writer whose work has appeared in such venues as Denver Quarterly and New Orleans Review and has been anthologized in Troubles Swapped for Something Fresh.