Tag Archives: sabotage

Positions of Power

I’ve written before about two positions of power: Power-over (maintaining or creating power inequality) and power-with (maintaining equal power). I’ve thought of this as a complete dichotomy, an either/or lens through which I look at all interactions and relationships, both mine and those around me. Lately, though, I’ve seen two other dimensions in the way we manage power. We are agents of power enhancement or power degradation.

Photo by Ev on Unsplash

Power enhancement and power degradation are the states between power-over and power-with. If we seek to steal the power of others, we begin by sabotaging cooperation, negotiation and equal access to resources — all those things that create communities based in power-with. If our sabotage is successful, power degradation begins. We don’t have complete power-over, not yet, but we are beginning to break down independence, self-sufficiency and the boundaries of others. We are actively working behind the scenes, slowly and subtly corrupting power wherever we can. We might, at this point, have a change of heart and begin fostering behaviors and situations that recreate and enhance power-with, or we might continue with our goal of power-over. Once our goal is attained, we can cease to lurk in the shadows and come into the spotlight, flushed and triumphant, bloated with stolen power and proud of it.

On the other hand, if we seek to empower others who have been embedded in a power-over dynamic, we begin by managing our own power in such a way that we enhance the power of the disempowered and degrade the power of those maintaining or creating a power-over status quo. Ideally, we don’t give our power away, because that’s a finite resource and leads to burnout and exhaustion. A better way is to use our power to teach, to lead, to support, to legislate and to generally become the wind beneath someone else’s wings. In other words, we appropriately invest our power into teaching others how to discover, reclaim, maintain and manage their own.

An abused child or woman is not going to know how to take care of themselves and function, even if their abuser is magically whisked away. They have to learn. Actually, first they have to unlearn what they already know — all the coping mechanisms that kept them alive in their situation but won’t work well in the wider world — and then they have to learn new skills and behaviors. That takes time, appropriate support from power enhancers and protection from power degraders, at least temporarily, while the victims of power-over learn how to find and reclaim their own power.

The people who live and embody these two intermediate positions of power, enhancers and degraders, are my people — the caretakers. We are the parents and the teachers; the mentors, spiritual leaders, coaches, medical professionals and volunteers who work at shelters, missions, soup kitchens, and out of tents in far-flung places. Interestingly, most of these folks once came from the exterminated middle class. Also interestingly, we see frequent headlines about how some people in this group misuse their position of power and authority in the guise of “helping” others. Shielded by the mask of a power enhancer, they act as power degraders, abusing and exploiting others unchecked, sometimes for decades.

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

Power enhancement and degradation are not black/white good/bad positions. Many grassroots organizations seek to degrade power in an effort to address our power-over culture and help others reclaim their rightful power. You might say their agenda is to equalize power. The Southern Poverty Law Center is an excellent example. As parents, we might hope to work as power enhancers for our children. As resistance volunteers, we might work against organizations supporting inequality.

It’s important to note that our culture doesn’t financially support people in these positions of power particularly well. Teachers strike for better pay. Coaches lay down their lives in bullet-riddled school hallways. Nurses and doctors are vulnerable to addiction, burnout and fractured relationships. Ditto police and firefighters. Compassion fatigue is epidemic. None of these people are millionaires, and some are becoming homeless in places like California as the cost of housing skyrockets. I also note how many of these positions are filled by volunteers. I myself did volunteer fire and rescue work for years, and then animal rescue work and hospice. Red Cross depends on its volunteers. Many healthcare facilities and schools rely heavily on volunteers, as well as sports teams, churches and countless human rights organizations.

Yet it seems to me power enhancers and power degraders are the most important people in our communities. They have the ability to lift others up into integrity and excellence or destroy them. They shape our health, the way we learn and think (or not, sadly), and our spiritual wellness. We trust them with our children, our souls, our secrets and our lives. When they stumble, burn out, fail or waver, we roar with fury, demand justice and retribution, riot and demonstrate, never considering that we are the ones who put them in such dangerous, risky, heartbreaking and impossible positions in the first place. We place them on the front lines, put them under constant public scrutiny and pressure and make them responsible for understanding and fixing our increasingly unequal and dysfunctional social power dynamics.

Consider what a professional athlete gets paid, or an entertainer, or a “successful” politician. Compare that to what your children’s teachers are paid, or your local police or fire people, or your nurse practioner or the local softball coach or scout leader. Who has more direct influence in your life and well-being? Who will come help you in the middle of the night, organize community support or assist you with wedding or funeral arrangements?

Here is a graphic demonstrating the circle of power. (Please take a moment to notice the cutting-edge high tech used to generate this graphic. Impressive, yes?) Currently, a power-over dynamic is running the show, and it lies directly across the circle from power-with. We each occupy a place or places along the circle of power, and those places are dynamic and fluid, depending on the daily and even hourly choices we make. Some people spend most of their lives trying to equalize power between people while others work tirelessly to create and maintain unequal power. We all, whether consciously or not, behave in ways that degrade or enhance our own power and the power of others.

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Nobody teaches us about power. Not our parents or schools, and certainly not the media. Yet our inherent rightful power and our need to manage it appropriately and effectively transcends ability level, age, race, sex, gender or socioeconomics. Individual power is apolitical. We all can take the same class, if only we can find teachers.

The problem is, there is no class and our best teachers are exhausted, demoralized, underpaid, underappreciated, overworked and drowning in a crippled education system while others are busy exploiting their positions in order to degrade the power of their students and colleagues. Even if some of the former know something about power management, they’re not in a position to teach anyone else about it. Power management and emotional intelligence skills (which are inextricably intertwined) are not going to show up on a standardized test or entrance exam.

We don’t know how to manage and maintain our power. We haven’t learned it and we can’t teach it. Yet we expect those people who support, protect and serve our communities, all those people who take these intermediate roles of power enhancers and degraders, to remain uncorrupted and infallible and spotlessly kind, compassionate, moral, ethical, and just plain GOOD. We give them power and authority blindly, because we can’t recognize appropriate power management from inappropriate either, and expect them to figure it out and do the right thing. We sure as hell don’t know what to do! When that doesn’t happen, we’re angry and we look around for someone to blame, someone or something to scapegoat.

Photo by Talles Alves on Unsplash

How can we expect things to get better if we don’t make some changes?

I suggest we must begin at the beginning, at the foundations, with our children, which means a new paradigm of parenting. Every single adult that comes into meaningful contact with a child must be reeducated about the continuum concept and connection parenting. Children need appropriate connection and bonding throughout childhood. If that happens, they learn emotional intelligence and become secure, confident, curious, joyful people who practice power-with as a matter of course, because their own power has never been corrupted or coerced.

How do we freeze everyone in their tracks, wipe their data banks clean and overwrite with better information? How can meaningful change take place if we don’t?

Don’t ask me. I can think about it and write about it, but I have no idea how to tackle such an overwhelmingly impossible task, even if everyone would consent to it, and most won’t. They don’t want to give up whatever power they feel they do have, even if it’s just over their children.

In the meantime, there’s only this small attic room; a grey, chilly spring day outside; and whatever I do or don’t do with my portion of personal power this minute, this hour, this day. I will make choices to enhance or degrade the power of everyone I interact with, including myself. I’ll write, go swimming and pick up birdseed for our empty feeders. I’ll observe others, think about power and try to make mindful choices.

That’s all I’ve got today for my daily crime.

Photo by juan pablo rodriguez on Unsplash

All content on this site ©2018
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

 

Tribal Shaming

Tribal shaming is one of the most powerful ideas I’ve been introduced to in the last years. I was introduced to the concept of tribal shaming through a friend who sent me a Facebook post by the author Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love). Here’s a link to that post. You don’t need to be on Facebook to read it, just press “Not Now” when it asks you to sign in. https://www.facebook.com/GilbertLiz/posts/806653502750100:0

It’s a long post, but it’s also life changing. Get ready for insight and clarity you’ve never had before about your tribe on every level, from family to country.

In (very) short, the concept comes from Dr. Mario Martinez, who wrote a book called The Mind-Body Code. Gilbert provides a link to a podcast by Dr. Martinez in her post. Gilbert was so stunned by Dr. Martinez’s work that she posted about it, and now her post is all over the net. Clearly, others find it as significant as I do. As the political situation unfolds day by day here in America and all kinds of people react in all kinds of ways, I keep thinking about the power of tribal shaming.

In this context, the word “tribe” means any group with which we identify. Tribe is family, church, community, culture, nationality, team, workplace, etc. Tribal shaming examines the power of the tribe. It’s not a new idea, of course. We’ve studied cults, gangs, religious sects—all kinds of groups in order to understand the choices we make and how they’re influenced by those around us. What I hadn’t thought about before was the invisible destructive power our tribe(s) have over our ability to live well.

Photo by Liane Metzler on Unsplash

I believe one of the greatest motivators for us is the desire for connection to others. Our earliest experience of connection takes place in our family of origin, or in the context of whoever raised us, even if just people in an institution. From infancy on, we’re each surrounded by tribal cultures and norms, tribal rules, and the differentiation of our tribe from others. This shows up in an overwhelming number of ways: Economically, geographically, religiously, educationally, etc.

Tribes provide us with connection, identity, meaning, and, hopefully, security and safety. They help us define ourselves and shelter us from an unkind world. Connection is a deep need for human beings, and without it we don’t survive. We know there are all kinds of consequences for people who have no early sense of tribe, from attachment disorder to failure to thrive to severe mental illness—and those only if the child survives in the first place.

Tribal connection works very well for people who feel they belong in the tribe(s) in which they find themselves.

But what happens when we don’t fit into our tribe? What happens when we ask questions and break rules? What happens when we don’t accept the tribe’s authority? What happens when the tribe abuses us?

Tribal shaming, that’s what.

Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash

Now, you might say, so what? So you break away from your family, group, church, whatever. Big deal. People do it all the time. It doesn’t matter.

That’s true. It’s also true that at a casual glance we’re all just fine. We move, we change jobs, our beliefs and views change, we get divorced, people come and go out of our lives. We spend time on social media, catch a movie, watch TV, have a drink, take a pill, buy a pint of ice cream, light up another cigarette. Maybe those closest to us see a shadow of addiction, workaholism, people pleasing, depression, insomnia and anxiety, but that’s nothing, right?

I don’t believe that for a single second.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

It does matter. Tribal estrangement is a deep wound that never stops bleeding, and it doesn’t much matter why the estrangement exists. If we feel cast out from our tribe, it hurts. We may grieve, we may rage, we may become ill, but there will be consequences for this kind of amputation. One hundred friends on Facebook can’t make up for it.

It hurts so much, in fact, that many of us self-sabotage so we can go back, because the thing about tribe is that they’ll always take you back if you fail. Now think about this for a minute. You can always go back if you fail.

The power of tribal shaming touches us all. I’ve seen it play out very powerfully in my family, and I bet you have, too. Right now, huge populations of people are on the move in the world, compelled by war, politics and the basic necessities of food and water. Millions more will be displaced by climate change. Social, geographic and economic boundaries are threatened. Our sense of self and tribe is undergoing intense pressure as we fight for space and resource.

Through this blog, I’ve made a friend in Nigeria. Her experience as a woman in a large city in a foreign (to me) country is eye opening. It’s easy to forget how life is for many other people in many other places. Today we might be able to eat, have a job, or have a roof over our head. Today we might have a tribe, no matter how small, or maybe several tribes that give us a sense of belonging and comfort, but tomorrow is another day, and much of the world is closer than we are to the precipice of famine and chaos.

The concept of tribe, like the concept of resource, is fluid. We define it ourselves. Right now in America, we’ve made money the most important resource. What will happen when a cup of clean water or a mouthful of food becomes the only resource that counts? What will happen if tribal shaming becomes tribal sharing and we decide to create a tribe of all life on earth, including the planet itself?

In the meantime, though, we clearly feel it’s effective to create small, rigidly defended tribes with small, rigidly defended rule sets and spend time making bombs of all kinds to throw over our palisades. Whatever happens, we must not allow the threats of education, science, literacy, critical thinking, equality or any kind of difference to exist. People must toe the line or get out—one way or the other.

Us against them and the outcasts in between. It works so well, doesn’t it?

All content on this site ©2016
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted