As a trauma therapist so much of my work is centered around power. Expanding the idea of power and cultivating personal power.
Power Over: The Dominant View of Power
Too often, when we think of power, we think of it in terms of power over. Power overresources. Power over the workplace. Power over the environment. Power over other people. Essentially, how we typically view power is through the lens of domination and control.
It’s not a personal flaw that we view it this way – we as a culture reinforce this kind of power.
People who have a dominating posture are often seen as “competent” and then handed positions with a great deal of power over others.
We say, “Nice guys finish last” and thereby reinforce the idea that you need to be not nice to get ahead in life. Unfortunately, not nice tends to translate to bullying others in practice.
Despite the fact that there are numerous organizational structures to choose from, we heavily rely on a vertical hierarchical organizational structure in most workplaces. And, vertical hierarchies reinforce the notion that one must have power over to have power.
These day to day expressions of power over may seem insignificant, but they are far from it. This line of thinking contributes to oppression and violence. It fosters an environment where rape and domestic violence can thrive. An environment where the formation of groups that believe that power is so scarce that they have to marginalize other people in order to have power, like white supremacists, can thrive. The violence we saw this weekend in Charlottesville has roots in the notion of power over.
Taken from this view, what happened this past weekend is not new at all. Furthermore, it demonstrates the need to shift our cultural attitudes toward what we praise as power.
Power With: A Sustainable View of Power
There is another way: power with.
Power with asserts that all people have something of value to contribute. Power with asserts that through relationships, collaboration, engagement, co-creation, and solidarity, there is power. And, it’s a kind of power that nourishes itself. It’s a kind of power that grows stronger through collective participation.
Active recycling programs employ power with by empowering the individual to act with the collective for the betterment of every living thing.
Leaders who foster leaders amongst themselves exercise power with (without losing an ounce of power).
Individuals who risk giving up some of this conventional view of power to say that they stand with people of marginalized communities on social media are also nurturing power with.
The good news? Our culture is already moving in this direction in so many ways. Businesses, large and small, are now encouraged to foster “co-creation experiences” with consumers to successfully market and sell their products. Social media, blogs and self-publishing empower the voices of the collective. On a more personal level, we are now embracing the idea that being vulnerable – a key relational skill – is not a sign of weakness at all and, in fact, has a very positive impact on one’s life.
While it is exciting to participate in and bear witness to this shift in our culture, we still have a lot of work to do.
Now, to be clear, we may not ever totally get rid of the idea of power over. But surely we would avoid a great deal of harm if we led with power with. Surely, we would create systems to support a high quality of life for all people. And, surely we would find ways of living that are more environmentally sustainable for generations to come.
Power with emphasizes collaboration among individuals. So, let’s start on the individual level. What would it look like for you to approach yourself, your work, your friends, your family, your life with power with?
Ok, now, can you share it with even one other person?
This is how we start a movement.
After all, tiny changes equal big changes over time.