This is an incredibly important component to understand when even daring to speak about power. What kind of power are we interested in creating here? How do we do that safely?
Here is a brief description of the four kinds of power courtesy of Brene Brown who has dedicated her entire career to studying human behavior, emotion and thought, especially surrounding leadership:
Here’s where it gets really tricky - we can have the intention of having power with/within/to leadership but use the tactics of Power Over leadership, both intentionally and unintentionally. Often this is done through gaslighting and not understanding that in order to cultivate power within, to or with there must be a clear set of boundaries established right off the bat and an honest clarity around what we are actually seeking and who we are seeking it for. It can be very easy to say that we are for someone but then only take on the actions that are motivated solely from our own best interest. The reality is that power over is the most common kind of leadership because it’s what has been in existence for the majority of human history. The human condition is very much attracted to finding this kind of power because it helps to support feelings of importance while alleviating feelings of insecurity, doubt and fear. Our egos are well versed at seeking out this kind of power because it is what serves to keep them alive and thriving despite the harm it causes others. So because this is so ingrained in how our society has functioned for so long, the only way to truly change it is to seriously go to work on our own dismantling of it, within ourselves.
I believe this is why we are seeing what we are seeing in the ways of social and racial justice, gender equality and the dismantling of a white supremist and patriarchal culture in all of our institutions...because enough people are ready to do the work of their own dismantling of power over structures. On a personal level, this is what I am seeing play out in the world of yoga, specifically the Baptiste community at this moment. There is a reckoning and realization that this kind of power is inherently destructive for our emotional and psychological well-being. That it is unsustainable and that while we had the privilege of not paying attention, the cost has been incredibly high for other human beings who have long been stripped of any kind of power. The last straw has been broken and there has been just enough fatigue that has set in to say enough is enough for a larger and growing amount of people. And this is ultimately great news.
But here’s the thing, not everyone has arrived yet. Especially anyone who has benefitted or is benefitting from the old power over model because it would mean that they would have to give up a great deal and break down old structures that have been serving them for a long time. I’m not saying this to excuse this kind of resistance. I simply think that coming from this place of understanding will actually help benefit those of us who are ready to and already are moving forward to do the work of dismantling and create real and lasting change.
In the spirit of promoting power with, to and within I will share that we can only be effective when we stop trying to convince the people who are doing wrong to see it, and instead go to work with one another on what we have direct agency on; which is ourselves and the relationships that would support a kind of learning that isn’t about who is right, but how we can all get it right, together. The kind that hold equal and equitable space for one another. To be clear, it doesn't mean that we don't hold people accountable. But part of that accountability relies on our willingness to recognize where our agency begins and ends, so as not to burn ourselves out with a constant pushing which could ultimately lead us down the road of practicing "power over", ourselves. Accountability is imperative for change, but shame is not a worthy tool in any direction it is aimed. Brene does have an amazing episode on her podcast about exactly this that I would encourage a listen.
I’ve experienced power over relationships my entire life. I’ve felt and seen the harm caused by their wake first hand, truly. And I have learned how to navigate this in a way that allows me to release the anger and frustration that is only really harming myself and move forward in a much more productive and healthy way. It’s easy to be drawn down into the depths of despair, shame and guilt that come from the realization that you have been at the mercy of this kind of power. But I promise you, it’s not where you need to stay.
If I can impart anything through this post, it’s to encourage you to take some time to consider how you seek and exert your own power. This is both over/with/to/within ourselves and one another. We desperately need to examine this before we even dare to consider how we continue onward to re-build and re-structure. This is the real work of inquiry and when done mindfully, respectfully and with compassion, it can be what changes the world in the ways that we who get it, know it can and should be. To your very best ability, don’t be discouraged by those who won’t listen right now. We don’t need to be right. Instead, let’s get to work on being the ones who get it right and actually learn how to foster power with, to and within for one another, ourselves and most especially anyone who has been harmed at the hand of power over.
is a Mama, Wife, Yoga and Meditation Teacher, Coach, Writer and Activist. You can read more about her here.