The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace. (Mahatma Gandhi)
Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent than the one derived from fear of punishment. (Mahatma Gandhi)
In our last essay, we advocated for a pursuit of meaning, never to be sacrificed for sheer, mere, power.
Of course, such an idea begs so many questions, explications and inferences that it must not be left hanging from the tree of confusion, ambiguity or a need for mastery.
Internal power, the capacity to look inward, through the mirror of consciousness, memory, disciplined inquiry and criticism, and then to bring into the world the essence of one’s identity, whatever maxim, or gesture, word or action that epitomizes the who and the what of our being needs to share, provides a relevant, realistic and reachable foil for what the world talks about as “power” in the determination of the life of a culture. Extrinsic power in relation to the “outer world” is expressed in deeds, achievements, awards, titles, certificates and legacies, recognized and presented, by representatives in that “public square”. Of course, both internal power and extrinsic power intersect in each and every exchange, whether private (in diaries, interior monologues, soliloquies, prayers, confessions, autobiographies and canvases, manuscripts, photo art museums, etc.) or in acts and words offered to an audience.
In our individual lives, we all know that we resist a full accounting of our shame, our embarrassments, our failures, and our self-inflicted sabotages. Getting a full appreciation and acceptance of the wholeness of who we are, ushering in a degree of self-respect and authenticity, nevertheless, depends directly and indirectly on such a full mirrored accounting. Secrets buried deep in the caverns of memory continue to haunt us, to the extent that their pulses are blocked from consciousness. Released, like those gold nuggets panned for by goldrush miners, those same secrets have the potential to untie the threads of bound nerves of shame, tight muscles and tendons of unworthiness, and to open pages of journals (literal and metaphorical) previous encased in dust and mouse droppings in the attic of our mind.
While obvious, and thereby considered trite, this recipe does not unfold into a mixing bowl like those gourmet recipes we all treasure. In fact, its unrelenting truth is one of its more effective safe-guards, keeping many of us jogging away from the challenge, or even resisting when others peek behind the veil of our public mask and telling us more about ourselves than we were ready to acknowledge. Paradoxically, our resistance to mining our own nuggets leaves us more vulnerable to the seduction of extrinsic power, status, money and reputation. While not based on empirical sociological research, anecdotal narratives including personal experience suggest that many of us who avoid critical self-introspection are the very ones who seek public applause, acclaim, and the extrinsic rewards of power over others.
If belief in the subtle and nuanced image of how unworthy, incompetent, immature, awkward, unintelligent, unlikeable holds sway over more uplifting adjectives describing our identity, (and all of us have zillions of moments when we were derided by others, many of whom we respected) then we will undoubtedly seek and find opportunities to exercise power through groups, teams, clubs, families, classrooms and workplaces. And for most of those opportunities, we will be rewarded also in a manner that comports with the “classical conditioning” that pervades the marketplace of both ideas and commerce, including political commerce, academic commerce, medical commerce and legal/accounting commerce. In short, we study, we work, we learn, we plan and we develop in a culture that endorses and practices extrinsic rewards for acceptable behaviour and especially for what it considers exceptional behaviour.
Those rewards/awards are all designed and administered
by those in charge, who themselves have been steeped in that same culture, and
who sincerely believe that in passing it on, they are serving the “best
interests” of the community as a whole.
Another irony, however, is that this extrinsic classical conditioning is or at least can often be a trap, seizing and holding tight to its best examples from youth up to and including retirement from high-ranking and highly respectable positions of honour, achievement and respect in the community. In North America, however, there are far too many stories of individuals who, in what has come to be known colloquially as a mid-life crisis, ‘crash and burn’ or change careers, leave marriages, over-consume, over-gamble, or pass through what can only be termed a turning point of some considerable import.
“Is that all there is” (Peggy Lee’s pop hit) sums up the emotion of the experience. Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman incarnates the archetype from the mid-century play, Death of a Salesman. Not all biographies, however, default in such a dramatic manner. Some are so well integrated into the requirements of the ‘system’ that they continue unperturbed, insofar as ‘we’ the public can see, far into retirement without any perceivable tragic eruptions or changes in their midlife.
Churches, clergy, chaplains, psychologists and psychiatrists, spiritual directors and more recently social workers have been traditionally ‘appointed’ and thus sought out as resources for those seeking guidance in and through a mid-life challenge. This cadre of professionals, however, continue on the suburbs of our professional communities, given that seeking their support continues to be regarded as a profound indication of some kind of personal, emotional, psychic and thereby social and professional weakness, (or to be less polite: illness, sickness, abnormal-ness, and unreliability). Only recently, have employers in some sectors, come to consider the emotional/psychic state of their workers as significant, in fact integral to the quality and reliability of their performance. Some have turned this “function” over to Employee Assistance Programs, (EAP’s) in an oblique manner so as not to ‘invade’ the privacy of the individual, and so as to offer a buffer of “protection” for both public relations and insurance purposes, while the volume and pace of work increases and wages and salaries remain constant or decline.
In the public arena, including the file of worker ‘rights’ and workplace safety and security, we now have some rather limp laws to which workers can refer, through legal counsel, in the event of an unlawful dismissal, or perhaps in cases where employers were negligent in protecting workers. As part of the ‘social net’ embedded in legislation, legislators, lawyers, politicians, corporate executives and the occasional social activist debate both public and privately their ideas, and by inference their beliefs and perceptions of how others ought to be regarded and treated by their deliberations.
Here is the nexus where the private “character” of public leaders intersects with the publicly acknowledged and demonstrated needs of individuals require address. How power has been perceived and delivered in the lives of those public figures will have a significant, if less visible and far less investigated, impact on the manner in which these men and women form their agendas, undergird their arguments and relate to others who are themselves committed to the climb up the public ladder of power.
Competition between and among individual and groups (political parties, churches, social service agencies, corporations) and the people in leadership is both predictable and inevitable. Whether such competition is considered a ‘zero-sum’ game, (in which if I win, you lose, OR if you win, I lose) or a shared pursuit of a common agenda through which all parties ‘win’ is a direct function of how power is to be deployed.
And many of the rules for such deployment depend on the culture within the decision-making body. And that culture itself, will rise from both the ashes and the bricks of those who preceded the current actors. Some of those rules will be overt and stated, while others will be covert, hidden and only ‘sprung’ on those considered opponents who threaten the power of those who consider themselves to be in charge.
It is in this ‘colliseum-of-conflict’ where the rubber of individual humans’ ambition, articulation, reputation, and character meets the road of the same traits of those opposed to whatever one side is proposing. Many historic conflicts were brief and lethal; others were more protracted but none less lethal. Court rooms evolved as a moderation of both techniques and outcomes of human conflict, themselves increasingly dependent on the culmination and summation of their own precedents.
Underlying all human conflict, and the intersection of opposing human interests and ambitions and goals, are tools like words, traditions, patterns of thought, foundational thinking and philosophy, religious belief, and evolved and still evolving definitions of concepts and arguments, evidential theories and practices and the collection and curating of information.
So too, underneath all public arguments lie the self-concepts of the participants, the adherence to a common footing of truth, as well as a commonly accepted pattern of process, including the mutual civility of the participants, as well as an agreed recognition that given the honour and respect of the process and of the ‘friend opposite’ all parties to the debate will accept and respect the decision of those charged with making it.
None of this is rocket-science, and no Philadelphia lawyer is needed to discern the obvious and minimal requirements of a civil engagement for the purposes of building and enhancing a wider and deeper seam in the granite edifice of public trust, confidence, reliability and deferral.
Whether that public trust and confidence has been entrusted to any of a number of public institutions, or directly into the elected or appointed roles and responsibilities of individuals or panels, it is the “bank-vault” that we are consider our shared bank account, to be held in reserve, respectfully, by those who temporarily, and tentatively hold the reins and the keys to that vault, while they hold public office.
And whether we want to consider the heritage and tradition and custom and laws and even the spider and cob-webs that have gathered among the archives as well as the biographies and the signatures of those whose name grace the laws, and the law cases and judgements, all of it taken together is the inheritance from our forebears through us to our children.
And if and when that trust, both in the content and the processes “we” have had entrusted to our generation, is torpedoed, bombed, and even more dangerously secretly and blindly subverted, right before our eyes, then we can all see that our “inheritance” has been removed. We are then legitimately left with our mouths agape, our hearts broken, and our minds stripped of all of the intrinsic and extrinsic guardrails, buoys, radar screens, and moral and ethical benchmarks our parents and grandparents believed were worthy of upholding and defending.
And, not only are we faced with the prospect that not only the basic requirements of a civilized community are being torn down, but the prospect of a universal human agape (love) of which Gandhi speaks so eloquently, and which the world needs more than ever, fades into oblivion like the Arctic ice floes.
We are all crippled in our capacity to love when we are constricted by our fear exacerbated and enhanced by the tyranny and trend-line to fascism we are witnessing. And, yet, it can be considered an act of universal (agape) love to “Say to th(is) darkness, we beg to differ!” (With thanks to Mary Jo Leddy, for her spiritual biography entitled, “Say to the Darkness, we beg to differ”)
I include here some pithy quotes on power, from a variety of human sources, for your reflection:
Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts…perhaps the fear of a loss of power. (John Steinbeck)
It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it. (Aung San Suu Kyi, Freedom from Fear)
When it comes to controlling human beings there is no better instrument than lies. Because, you see, humans live by beliefs. And beliefs can be manipulated. The power to manipulate beliefs is the only thing that counts. (Michael Ende)
The object of terrorism is terrorism. The object of oppression is oppression. The object of torture is torture. The object or murder is murder. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me? (George Orwell, 1984)
For the powerful, crimes are those that others commit. (Noam Chomsky, Imperial Ambitions, Conversations of the Post 9/11 World)
Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral. (Paulo Freire)
Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning and purpose to our lives. (Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection)
The strategic adversary is fascism....the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us. (Michel Foucault)
Ultimately, the only power to which man should aspire is that which he exercises over himself. (Elie Wiesel)
When one with honeyed words but evil mind
Persuades the mob, great woes befall the state. (Euripides, Orestes)
Asking for help with shame says: You have the power over me.
Asking with condescension says: I have the power over you.
But asking for help with gratitude says: We have the power to help each other.
(Amanda Palmer, The Art of Asking)
Power is not revealed by striking hard or often but by striking true. (Honore de Balzac)
Whoever has experienced the power and the unrestrained ability to humiliate another human being automatically loses his own sensations. Tyranny is a habit, it has its own organic life, it develops finally into a disease. The habit can kill and coarsen the very best man or woman to the level of a beast. Blood and power intoxicate…the return of the human dignity, repentance and regeneration becomes almost impossible. (Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The House of the Dead)