Own Your Power
I am hosting an in-person event in Toronto tomorrow @ Danu Social House on power literacy. RSVP here.
I did a workshop last week, my first in-person one since 2020. I used to do many in-person workshops before and will do more now. I like bringing people together to discuss important things; one important thing is power.
The workshop attempted to disambiguate status and power, encouraging participants to be senseful of the power dynamics ever-present in their lives. I shared four premises:
Premise #1. Power and status are different things.
Premise #2. Many are chasing status, not power.
Premise #3. If you cannot spot power dynamics locally, you cannot spot power dynamics globally.
Premise #4. Becoming
more wiseless foolish = demystifying power and gaining power literacy.
During the shares at the end of the session, someone suggested that unduly focusing on power is an opportunity cost and concentrating on something like love is wiser. My response, paraphrased:
Focusing on power in an offensive way, aka getting more power, quickly leads one away from the good, eventually toward evil. Focusing on power in a defensive way, preventing being dominated by others, protects one and those they live for against people playing unjust power games that bend people away from the good.
And yes, one should focus on love, which is at the heart of psychotherapeutic “parts works” (loving all one's parts) or intersubjective we-space practices (loving all the people in one’s presence). However, one can engage in “love bypassing,” loving to escape from maturing into a non-naive adult, which requires power literacy. If one does not have power literacy, they are not in the game. Straight up.
People possessed by power (aka archetypal sociopaths) are dangerous. People with no power literacy are also dangerous, becoming easy marks and cannon fodder for sociopaths. An adjacent phenomenon to power illiteracy is people not “owning their power,” aka not recognizing their current power and the responsibility for using it for good. To own one’s power, having a nuanced sense of power is good. In the literature on power, a four-part distinction of power is frequently discussed:
Power-within, or being empowered
Power-over is influencing other people’s options, power-with is being influential with other people, power-toward is influencing toward accomplishing something, and power-within is having influence internally, aka intellectual and emotional agency. We all have a certain degree of power with these facets, and one’s power configuration will change in each context.
All these kinds of power are needed to be expressed by an individual, or else they will not own their power. There are four fears why people do not own their power:
They fear responsibility.
They fear conflict.
They fear becoming evil.
They fear transformation.
There are good reasons for these fears. There is also a typical response that is good for each.
Owning one's power means one must be responsible for something. Being responsible for something also means being responsible for the consequences of something not going well. This fear is the primary reason people do not own their power. Disappointing others and being the source of their dissatisfaction sucks. Fears of being unwanted, unworthy, and rejected by the tribe can bubble up to unbearable degrees when one lets people down.
It is easier not to be responsible. It takes less effort to stay a child psychologically; "the adults,” whoever they are, can be the responsible ones. Another disempowering reaction: disperse responsibility amongst many people, and hopefully, the emerging mushy consensus can respond to whatever challenges are present. It is cozy and comfortable not being responsible. Yet, being in a permanent womb-like existence, always outsourcing the ability to respond to others, leads to suffering.
To own one’s power, one must be courageous to risk letting others down.
Owning one's power brings conflict. Owning one's power announces that one has power, and others who desire power will want to take it away. Conflict can be unpleasant. Still, many bask in conflict, enjoying its intensity and willing to play dirty to get what they want. Owning one's power makes one a target for those good at taking power away from others.
It is easier not to face conflict. Facing conflict brings discomfort to the body. In conflict, one cannot relax and must stay sharp, ready for an attack. It feels safer not owning one's power because not having any power means no one will try to take it away. Conflict is hard, and some are naturally good at it. Yet, a life without conflict is no life at all but a cowardly avoidance of reality.
To own one's power, one must be courageous to face conflict with those who are good at it.
Fearing Becoming Evil
Owning one’s power will tempt one to have more power than needed. The taste of power is intoxicating, bringing a social high that mere drugs cannot match. Power fast becomes an acquired taste for those uncustomized to it. Like other drugs, one can quickly lose control, forgetting where they placed their moral compass. Being addicted to power makes one lose an embodied sense of what is good, eventually preventing others from cultivating a sense of what is good—actively preventing the good in others is the basis of evil.
It is easier not to be tempted by power. There are many drugs other than power one can get high on. Being tempted by power can put one in proximity to those who are powerful. Many of those who are powerful are bent away from the good, moving toward evil, and one is defined by the company they keep; evil begets evil. Yet, brushing up against evil gives awareness to what is truly good.
To own one’s power, one must be courageous to face evil within and without.
Owning one's power will eventually lead to transformation. If a person wholly owns their power, there is no escape from transforming in surprising, unpredictable, and dangerous ways. This transformation is scary because the illusion of a guarantee that one's current life bestows will no longer be present, putting one at the knife's edge into worlds unknown.
It is easier to stay the same. Transformation brings too much uncertain intensity; too many things will be put into question, demanding too many responses. Resistance to change is a powerful force. Transforming small things like one's diet and budget is a bother. Transforming big things like one's life can seem like a nightmare. Yet, failing to transform can only bring a numbing and unfulfilling existence.
To own one’s power, one must be courageous to transform one's life.
The throughline with many people not owning their power is fear. They respond to these fears by becoming more capable, knowledgeable, or whole. However, attempting to become more capable, knowledgeable, or whole is not always a response but sometimes a reaction. Taking another course, reading another book, or getting more therapy is often unnecessary.
What is necessary is having courage. Without courage, the power you have now will not be used for good.
Journalling is a reliable way to own your power, and journalling with others is a reliable way to be inspired by others in their power. Join a Collective Journalling session and become empowered with a crew of good-hearted fools becoming less so. The RSVP link is behind the paywall.
What is Collective Journalling? This communal practice happens via Zoom and is 90 mins, with check-ins in the chat at the beginning and an opportunity to connect with fellow journalers in breakout rooms at the end. You do not have to stay the whole time. If you are in an antisocial mood, you do not have to interact with anyone, yet you can still enjoy the coffee shop-esque communal vibe. The session concludes with an optional sharing of a passage in the chat. Most of the time is spent in silence together, individually inquiring about what matters most. A lovely group of people has formed around this practice. The practice occurs on weekdays @ 8 AM ET.
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