Several days ago, I caught MPR in between drives to Home Depot and Ace Hardware. It does not take much listening to hear of numerous examples of power and its application. These uses are obvious on a national and international basis. What I was struck with during this particular program was the disregard of established rules and the abuse of power.
The abuse of power in Washington is nothing new, cover-ups, misrepresentations and misspeaking, (lying) are ubiquitous. Power as demonstrated by national leaders is most often seen in its abused form, not as a force for good.
Our first experiences of power most frequently comes in the form of discipline. Discipline is either punishment or a force to teach. If I am bigger than you are I can very easily let you know that I’m in charge by the whack of an open palm on a backside. Another lesson is also taught here. Might is right. The one punished tends to avoid the punisher. This puts a damper on developing a relationship. Making your little brother clean the cat box when he was eight years old even though it was your job may have been a statement about how powerful you were, but it also did little to enhance a common bond.
If discipline is to educate, then the importance and value of relationship comes before whose “top dog”. Negotiation, compromise and respecting the rights of others become the might of this right.
People who use physical force to settle conflict usually forget one very important piece of information, that is, there is always someone or something that is bigger than they are. The goal or objective of controlling a situation by compelling another works for a while, but ultimately fails when the power shifts. We had very clear demonstrations of this in the old Soviet Union when it tanked. Power and its use must be something else than mere application of physical force.
We celebrate Martin Luther King Day. Dr. King was one of the strongest advocates of personal power that views moral over physical strength as superior. In this view, right wins out over the idea of brute force. The results of this approach, i.e. respect, cooperation and negotiation lead to changing the structures that keep people enslaved. A cycle of I’ll bash you, you bash me, with its attendant escalations from fists, to knives to handguns to MAC-10s becomes unnecessary.
To understand power at its source, we have to look toward the individual. Power flows from the person. This is especially apparent in a democracy where the power of the ballot box is in evidence. Totalitarian or despotic institutions, whether they are governments, churches, schools or authoritarian corporations are afraid of the individual voice. One voice, speaking with moral authority, tends to unsettle ideas, procedures, and heaven forbid, salary structures. One person, rising in a meeting asking,“Why?” can alter the future.
Having power means also paradoxically the willingness to give it away. Ultimately, this means giving one’s life. There are innumerable examples of this historically. Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. understood all too well that if they were to accomplish anything, to demonstrate real power, they had to put their butts on the line.
Abusing power by the use of external force, manipulation, or deceit is very easy to do. Power as a benign force focusing the energies of the individual in a way that draws from inner resources, goes to the core of the individual. Sometimes that inner journey is frightening. You have to look at yourself.