Just how many elephants does it take to strike fear into the heart of the world’s most powerful army?
About 6,000, according to Plutarch.
I recently listened to Owen Ewald, the C. May Marston Professor of Classics at Seattle Pacific University, give the annual C. May Marston Lecture, “Beyond the Ivory Wall: India in Classical Literature.” Speaking about the cross-cultural exchange between ancient Greece and Rome, and India, Ewald told the story of Alexander the Great’s attempt to invade the Indian subcontinent. Unfortunately for Alexander, his army revolted when they discovered the “ivory wall” of elephant-powered warfare they would have to face, forcing him to turn back. Though the Greeks had conquered the Persian Empire, they didn’t want to go up against the power of hundreds of thousands of Indian troops — and 6,000 elephants.
It strikes me that discussions about power crop up in nearly every academic discipline on campus, whether it’s ancient history or psychology, physics or sociology. During the 13th annual Day of Common Learning in Autumn Quarter, the SPU community gathered to listen and reflect on “The Promise and Perils of Power: Fostering Human Flourishing in a Broken World.”
Of course, we don’t have the power of thousands of elephants to shield us against conquering armies (nor is it generally now lawful to use an endangered species as a weapon). More often, power is the “elephant in the room,” a force we may be unwilling to recognize.
That was part of the point made by keynote speaker Andy Crouch, executive editor of Christianity Today and author of Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power. When we begin to acknowledge and recognize the power we have, Crouch argues, we can pursue forms of power that lead to the flourishing, rather than the domination, of others. Power ought not to terrify us, nor should we pretend it doesn’t exist. And we don’t have to command an army of thousands to have power. Created in the image of a powerful God, regular people have power, too.
The stories we have in this issue of Response aren’t all stories of folks in high-level leadership positions, though Seattle Pacific is proud to count CEOs and political leaders among its alumni. Instead, we have stories of students and alumni using the power of their education to empower others: stories of students getting to know homeless neighbors through Tent City 3 or designing a prosthetic hand for use by Syrian refugees. And stories of alumni supporting disease eradication efforts in remote Ecuadorian villages or volunteering to answer questions from prospective SPU students.
As you read these stories, I hope you’ll think about your own power — because you do have power. And I hope you’ll ask yourself: What power do I have, and how can I use it for good?