What Being Italian Taught Me About Becoming Powerful
Most people want to be more powerful, in business and in life. We’re squeamish about saying it, but given the choice between some control over events and none, most would choose control. That’s the essence of power, really, and nothing to be ashamed of.
The taboo of power keeps us from talking about how to accumulate it, though, and that’s unfortunate. We could all use a little more control these days, at work and at home.
So how do you accumulate power? I learned, growing up Italian, and it’s a lesson I apply every day. You can too.
The Godfather is the ultimate expression of the Italian-American experience, and among the reasons for its enduring appeal are its many layers. On the surface, it’s a powerful story of the 20th century immigrant journey, following a poor but principled family from the hills of Sicily through three generations in America to the pinnacle of wealth, status, and corruption. It’s also a treatise on the accumulation of power, and — being written, directed, and acted by some of the most prominent Italian-American film artists ever — a note-perfect reflection of Italian-American culture, custom, and belief.
The film begins with an exchange between Marlon Brando’s iconic Vito Corleone and a formally dressed Italian immigrant named Bonasera, whom we later learn is a successful undertaker in the city.
He tells Don Corleone (Don being a title of respect meaning Boss) his daughter was assaulted, and that the police refused to intervene. He asks the Don’s help in bringing the men responsible to justice. Eventually he whispers for the Don to kill them, and offers money in return. Corleone responds with indignation:
We, in the audience, aren’t sure what’s happening. We know this is a mob movie… Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work? What does Don Corleone want, if not money for violence? Is he feigning offense, afraid of entrapment, playing innocent?
That’s what the “Medigans” are wondering, anyway. “Medigan” was my grandfather’s word for…