In my international politics class, students learn about “hard” power and “soft” power. It’s an important lesson for many in this world about what really matters.
Power is defined as who gets what, when and how. It’s about getting someone to do something they might not otherwise do, or get them to continue behavior when people want to change their actions.
Hard power is about physical, tangible assets, instruments of coercion. They can be weapons of war, evidence of economic might or masses of population. “If you can take a picture of it, then it’s hard power,” I tell my students.
Soft power is a little harder to figure out. It involves intangibles. Because you can’t easily take a picture of it, it’s not always quantifiable. Some dismiss it because it’s not readily observable. Others scorn it because it doesn’t seem as strong and mighty as its harder counterparts. But is soft power really weaker?
An example can be seen in sports. You can observe the muscles and size of one team, backed by a large budget. The other side may be just a little smaller, appear a just little slower, without the same school resources, but they’ve got the motivation, the heart that makes them fight like tigers instead of preening for the sports highlights show. History shows there are many of these inexplicable upsets in sports, but don’t always identify soft power as the reason.
It’s the same in conflict too. On paper, the British Army and their Hessian and Loyalist allies should have flattened the Continental Army and its navy and their French friends completely. But though the United Kingdom won a lot of battles, they didn’t win the war, when hard power showed they should have won easily. That’s the power of soft power.
Throughout his life, Jesus Christ utilized “soft power” in trying to spread the message of helping others. He was born in a stable, riding into the capital on a donkey, being praised by palm fronds, hanging out with the folks that often get overlooked or passed by in life.
I’m sure he could have compelled a more powerful army to crush the Romans with a wave of his hand, or with a flick of his wrist, could have destroyed the Pharisees and Sadducees with natural calamities, crushing them in their temples. With a snap of his fingers, he could have inflicted painful and deadly diseases upon the zealots who so preferred the violent response to the more moderate message Jesus was proposing that they joined the chorus of “crucify him.”
Some reading this would say “Of course, Jesus Christ is powerful, he cheated death! What could be more powerful than that?” But that kind of misses the point. He didn’t do it for himself; what would be the point of proving what you could always do? It was about going through incredible torture and a painful execution to give a chance to sinners like me, who don’t deserve that sacrifice.
But thanks to an all-powerful deity, humbling and suffering himself for others, doesn’t just give us a chance to be saved ourselves. It was a rallying cry for us to do the same, to help others and learn from his example that sometimes that soft power can triumph over hard power, when all odds seem against such an outcome. We can, and should make a difference for others.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Twitter account is JohnTures2. He wants to thank campus Chaplain Adam Roberts and his wife’s Uncle Lon, a Florida plumber, for the inspiration.