There are basically two kinds of power. You are familiar with the first – Power Over. Power Over is the authority to require complicity with laws, regulations and rules of behavior. In our world Power Over is enforced by parents, police and the military.
In the short term, Power Over is efficient. It may not always pick the best solutions, but it gets things done, and there are times when this is necessary. In a crisis there isn’t time for negotiation; action is essential. Power Over is the hook used to bring in an errant sheep. If a child is about to run into the street, there is no time to have a discussion about the danger of cars. In that moment, action is essential. The risk overrides more social concerns.
In its essence, Power Over is fear-based. A burglar or a rapist has already decided to break with society, so Power Over may be the only realistic recourse in that situation. Talking with a mugger or a drug dealer about his lifestyle choices may be helpful, but probably not in the midst of a mugging or a drug deal.
But, Power Over must be used with the greatest of caution. It is the most seductive and corrupting influence known to man, and its employment invariably leads to evil. History teaches that the use of Power Over inescapably leads to abuse. Power Over provides an easy way out for an insecure parent or a demented dictator. Psychologist’s offices are filled with the after-effects of the parental misuse of Power Over. On a larger scale, human history is replete with the abuses of power by morally corrupt leaders – and the inevitable backlash – rebellion and conflict – these abuses engender. Caesar’s assassination, The American Revolution and WWII were all responses to dictatorial abuses of power.
In a society dominated by ego, Power Over is an essential handmaiden. Remember, the ego is a substitute for the inability to hold the God Space. Based in fear, the ego must turn to Power Over (manipulation, deception, seduction, coercion) from the fear that an honest expression of wants or desires will be met with rejection. Power Over by the way, does not always appear aggressive. Seduction and manipulation employ little direct force, but they can be incredibly powerful.
The second kind of power is less familiar to us. It is Power With. Power With is an expression of consensus. It requires the support of the group. We do not see it often because it is more difficult and time consuming to achieve. Where Power Over is coercive and fear-based, Power With is inclusive and supportive. Power With comes from shared values, commonly held beliefs and agreement.
The really interesting thing about Power With is that the only time it can be implemented is when people hold the God Space. Anything short of that leads to the creation of ego conflicts and the resulting loss of consensus. And in a society dominated by the ego, individual fears and ego-based needs make the achievement of consensus problematic at best.
As a process, Power With is messy, confusing, time consuming and inefficient. It can seem to take forever to achieve consensus (It takes a great deal more work to get your kid to want to clean up his/her room . . .). Creating consensus, by the way, is the real role of leadership.
In life, most of us are forced into the God Space by the pressure of circumstance. King George’s rigidity forced the American Colonists into a corner that required them to set aside their individual differences (slavery, state’s rights, etc.) and join together in a common cause. The Declaration of Independence is a remarkable expression of Universal Truth. The Patriots of the American Revolution or soldiers in WWII didn’t have to be forced to fight. Most of them went willingly because they were convinced of the rightness of their cause, and the entire nation stood behind them. Conversely, soldiers had to be coerced or bribed to fight in Viet Nam because it was a meaningless, hopeless and ill-conceived war, and our soldiers and most of the nation knew it.
Martin Luther King Jr. backed American society into a corner by forcing the entire country to look at the racial abuses of segregation and the Jim Crow laws of the American South. Gandhi crystallized world opinion against the ethnocentric practices of Great Britain in India. Nelson Mandela did the same with Apartheid in South Africa. Each of them put the smell of certain social practices under our noses and effectively said, “Are you going to ignore this?” In each case, our response was to move closer to the God Space.
Power Over provides short-term help, but it is a quick fix that comes with a very high price. Where Power With builds trust, consensus and stability, Power Over sows the seeds of dissention. Power Over, by its nature, disregards the needs of the individual to ameliorate those of the community. It tells people how they must behave. It requires conformity.
Power With is the glue that holds groups together. It encourages people to think and choose for themselves. Power With is empowering. And, in the long-term, Power With is incredibly more efficient. Shared beliefs allow thousands, sometimes millions of people to respond almost reflexively to a challenge with a single voice.
This is not just a societal phenomenon. The same conflicts occur in our relationships. I mentioned one of the big ones earlier – parenting. Parenting is an arena designed to challenge every aspect of your compassion – by what? By a powerless four-year old child. Think about it. If I fear that I am not worthy, I have obviously stepped away from the God Space, and must compensate through some sort of Power Over strategy. If I fear intimacy, I must withhold, control or otherwise manipulate my (necessarily) wounded partner. Conversely, if there is real love in my heart, I will approach all my relationships with joy and compassion. The space between us will be open instead of stifling, suffocating and repressive. My love will not be contingent upon your behavior. If I do not like what you do, I may choose a different partner, but that is a different matter.
These challenges and conflicts also occur within the self. If I repress my real feelings by ignoring them, beating them down or covering them over with drugs, sex or alcohol, I guarantee the creation of a personal crisis. My denial will eventually come back to bite me because Power Over cannot deliver what I really want. Therefore it creates substitutes. I will pick a less than optimal partner, seek a drug high or lose myself in work in order to bury my real feelings. I may feel loved in the moment, but this feeling is transitory and I will feel worse afterward. Whether it is a drug dependency, obesity or an explosive and painful personal relationship, Power Over comes with a substantial price, because the God Space will not be denied. Whatever I create outside the God Space is guaranteed to eventually cause me serious pain.
Power With takes the long view. It asks me to forgo the immediate false gratification of the drug high for the long-term opportunity to feel sincerely good about myself or to create a deep and meaningful relationship. It means loving myself, because in its essence, Power With is heart-based.
copyright©Blue Lotus Press 2016