My 3-year-old George went to school today saying that he was "the Grinch."
We watched the Dr. Seuss animated movie a few nights ago. He seemed impressed with the way the Grinch had discovered love and compassion -- and grown his heart by 3 sizes -- at the end. He particularly liked that the Grinch had joined the Whos of Whoville for their Christmas meal.
But by this morning, George's thoughts at turned to the first incarnation of the Grinch, the one with a heart the size of a walnut, the one who "keeps swinging his dog around," as George fondly remembers it.
The first clue that George had gone retrograde on the Grinch was when he was putting his socks on. From the hallway where I was wrestling with his brother Cole, I heard a low, gravely voice coming from George's room: "You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch!" came the hair-raising refrain.
By the time we were loading him into the car, he announced with a roar that he was indeed the Grinch. He raised his hands in the air and wiggled his fingers, roaring again in case we missed it the first time. I said that the Grinch should be the "nice" Grinch at school. He gave me a look as if to say I was a fool...
"I am the mean Grinch!"
It was the way he smiled when he said it that got me imagining the trouble he may cause at recess today.
Which brings me to my subject: the pleasure of power.
We all know the thrill that comes with overpowering someone. We get it when we win a game of skill, say a video game or a ping-pong match, or a sport. We get it when we argue a point forcefully, winning an argument outright (rare, but don't you remember those few times when it happened?). There is something intensely pleasurable about the demonstration of power.
I remember after 9-11 seeing a newsclip of a burly man on the Brooklyn Bridge shouting out, "The people in the Middle East better watch out, we're coming to get you!" The newscaster said something anodyne about the strong feelings of the people of New York. But sitting on my couch all the way out in California, I felt the same feelings of rage, and a desire to overpower anyone who could have done what they did.
I believe that this recalibration of my own sense of the world, this tweaking the dials to allow more interest in the use of power, affected my outlook in the two years leading up to the Iraq War. Even knowing that the French were probably right, that we should give the inspectors more time to find the WMDs, it still pissed me off that they wouldn't back up Colin Powell in the U.N. with the second resolution.
I mean it pissed me off disproportionately. I didn't go so far as to refuse French fries, as did some, but I realize now that as a result of 9-11 I viewed events in the world for some time through a lens of power.
But this urge is ultimately infantile, not to mention self-defeating. We know that as parents we need to teach our children to reign it in. We rely on their teachers and other adults to help in this process. Schoolyard bullies (or "mean Grinches") are universally disliked.
So when we see it in a grown adult, seeming without shame or discomfort, it makes us uneasy.
Watch this clip of Mayor Giuliani speaking at a Town Hall meeting in June of 2001.
Consider. Even though the man asking the question may be overreaching, watch how quickly Giuliani falls into calling him and his co-workers (and tax-paying residents of New York City) "idiots" and "morons". It appears to be a comfortable place for him to rest.