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Power

Jump to the following topics:

  1. What is power?  
  2. The positive and negative aspects of power.  
  3. Techniques for gaining and using power. 


What is power? It is the ability to act effectively toward the attainment of a goal. In interpersonal dynamics, it is the capacity to influence people physically, emotionally, or intellectually, to compel them to perform, feel, or think in a certain manner.


The positive and negative aspects of power.  

  1. The positive aspects of power.
    • When we are powerful, we have more capability to be the person we want to be, doing the activities we want to do. We make choices assertively. We survive, and we thrive. We feel optimistic and confident; powerless people feel helpless and oppressed.
  2. The negative aspects of power.
    • Power is only one aspect of the process of living in a dynamic world; it can be defined as the administered vigor which makes things happen. But power disrupts that process when it is sought for its own sake, when we embrace a position solely for the attainment of power. Power is meant to be the servant of our efforts to reach goals which are based on our values. Although one of those values might be "to obtain power," power frequently becomes an intoxicating distraction away from other human goals which must be honored -- friendship, love, compassion, social accord, and so on. Then, instead of friendships, we have power alliances; instead of mutual cooperation, we have cold-hearted calculations -- and enemies.


Techniques for gaining and using power.  

  1. We can find many sources of power. Some of those sources include:
    • Knowledge, especially in this "information age." Specialized knowledge includes that of human nature (in ourselves and in other people), motivation, the workings of our occupation and the world in general, and other information which increases our ability to participate and influence.
    • Skills. These are jobs skills, social skills, organizational skills, and so on.
    • Influence. We can gain authority over people and resources. This can mean anything in the spectrum from dictatorship to the swaying of other people's opinions to the non-manipulative service as a role model and source of inspiration and support.
  2. Take back your power. Sometimes gaining power means to take back the power we have wrongly given away -- to people, beliefs, money, possessions, and so on. To give our power away means to believe that someone or something is better at serving our needs than we are. Certainly, for example, a doctor is better at diagnosing our illness, but "giving away our power" would be to relinquish our right to ask questions, and to inquire about possible options in treatment, and to seek a second opinion. We take back our power by right-sizing our estimation of things:
    • We don't project an inordinate value onto things. For example, we don't believe that money buys happiness, although it can buy goods and services which make a personal world in which happiness is easier to attain; for example, we can buy a home in which we are comfortable, and gifts for friends -- but we don't try to use money to buy the particular things that money can't buy. And we don't give inordinate power to people, wrongly believing that they control our destiny and dignity.
    • We are not fearful. However, we are appropriately cautious, recognizing other people's power to hurt us.
    • We don't entrust people with the responsibility for our lives. In the example, of the doctor, we don't expect the doctor to maintain our health; a doctor can help us during crises, but our health-maintenance is our duty -- through our decision to eat nutritious foods, and to exercise, etc.
    • We develop our own values, viewpoints, opinions, and decisions, instead of letting other people impose theirs.
  3. We can gain power from other people. In politics, international relations, and interpersonal dynamics, the desire to govern other people might be an expression of one of three aims: (1) to express power for its own sake (i.e., using power to gain more power), or (2) to dominate people (i.e., using power to impose our goals at the cost of theirs), or (3) to be a facilitator and steward (i.e., to accomplish goals for the good of all). Stewardship offers these advantages:
    • The steward has the capability of acquiring more power than does the tyrant. Both the steward and the tyrant can build consent by crystallizing the people's self-interest toward a common goal -- but, ultimately, the tyrant's personal aims will conflict with those of the people, thus creating resentment and rebellion (and a loss of the power that would otherwise be given through the people's cooperation). A tyrant views this turmoil as part of the game; a steward considers turmoil to be either an unfortunate part of the creative process or as an indication that his or her management has excluded people whose voices need to be heard.
    • The steward is more likely to have a reign of peace, and peace of mind. The attitude toward leadership is that "someone has to do it"; what's important is that the service be done, not that this person must be the one to do it. The power comes from consent, or from fate, or divine grace. When circumstances or a personal decision require a new person in the position of power, the current steward might regret unfinished projects and unfulfilled dreams, but the power is probably passed with dignity and tranquility, rather than with a tyrant's last gasp of destruction and self-destruction (as in Hitler's latter-day decisions to scorch Germany and to kill himself).
    • The power of stewardship is likely to be more endearing. People readily give authority to a strong person who will use that power to benefit them. Philosophers have said that the path of the power and the path of love are incompatible; stewardship allows us to use power while retaining our human qualities of kindness and love. Some of our most-beloved heroes have been leaders who used their power to help us and to make us stronger; the most-hated people have been those who used their power to hurt us to realize visions that did not include us.
  4. Get power by taking responsibility. To assume responsibility is to participate actively in whatever is happening in our lives, so that we can protect and enhance our interests. We lose power whenever fail to take responsibility, i.e., whenever we make excuses, or wrongly blame other people, or claim victimhood when a situation was partly our fault, or unduly react (rather than merely respond) to people and situations, or relinquish processes and outcomes to other people or to kismet. We can assume responsibility in such matters as our finances, health, job, personal relationships, actions, thoughts, feelings, problems, successes and failures, various circumstances, and our life in general; the fact is that we are responsible for those things, regardless of whether we acknowledge this fact. Even when we take responsibility, we cannot control all events around us, but we can still assert responsibility (and power) by selecting our responses to those events.
  5. Express power through every action you make. Power is an aspect of our general assertiveness into life; it gives our assertiveness a forceful presence which must be acknowledged by people and materials. At every moment, we are interacting with the outer world and our inner world, so we have an opportunity to select whichever position allows us to express and receive power. The management of power is a skill which can be practiced constantly.

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