What is Your Relationship to Power?
“Power to the People” was an anthem song written by Beatle John Lennon in the early 1970s. Somewhat like today, it was a period of social unrest.
But what is “power?” Merriam-Webster has two definitions that are particularly relevant to considering your relationship to power:
- Possession of control, authority, or influence over others; and
- The ability to act or produce an effect.
The reality is that power is multi-faceted and has many layers of meaning. The two dictionary definitions point toward three distinctly different types of power: “power over;” “power to;” and “power with.”
The first of the 3 Vital Questions® is “Where are you placing your focus?” Reflecting on this question can help you discern your relationship with these three types of power.
Power Over – It is easy to focus on the impacts of COVID-19 personally and in the workplace, systemic racial inequality, climate degradation, and other social issues as problems—which, indeed, they are. You may feel these problems have power over you, and you are powerless to respond, which naturally evokes fear and anxiety.
Fear can cause you to react in the classical forms of fight, flight, or freeze. These forms of reacting are all strategies to obtain or maintain power over the problem that you may feel victimized by.
For example, the “fight” reaction is playing out in many communities where violence begets violence and destruction. It is also prevalent in the political arena, playing the “blame game,” as if finding “who is at fault” will solve the problem.
The “flight” and “freeze” reactions are often more subtle. You may “flee” the realities by denying that you are impacted by the circumstances. Other times you may “freeze” by denying reality and/or staying silent to the displeasure. However, denial and silence are subtle approaches to trying to obtain “power over” distress about those situations that you cannot control.
If you feel problems have power over you, chances are high you will react in ways that produce or perpetuate the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) and its roles of Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer. That is why the second Vital Question— “How are you relating?”—is also useful.
If the reaction is to “fight,” each side that is fighting sees themselves as the Victim (and they may very well be!) and the other side, or the situation or system, as a Persecutor. Some may think they are reacting as a Rescuer by fighting the perceived Persecutor on behalf of the Victims. It can get very convoluted and complex, which explains why everyone feels disempowered with this type of power.
Power to – We believe to meet the difficult circumstances of today, we must leverage our power to create. Most importantly, we must embrace our power to choose our response to life’s challenges and not be at the mercy of those who want to have power over us.
This type of power paves the path for relating to your world through the roles of Creator, Challenger, and Coach, which make up TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic)®. As a Creator, you can develop your capacity to see circumstances as Challengers and deploy your power in service to what you want to create. Focusing on power to, taps into your positive inner state of what you passionately care about, which provides the energy to take Baby Step actions.
Power with – Relating to yourself and others through the TED* roles is all about collaboration, which involves sharing and leveraging power with others as Co-Creators. Power with may involve you supporting others when they need help, like reaching out to neighbors who must “shelter in place.” You may choose to deepen your relationships by learning about experiences and perspectives of others unlike yourself. Ways of co-creating are endless.
The truth is that we all face these circumstances together. However, the response to current situations starts with yourself.
Where do you spend most of your time in relationship to power? Power over, power to, or power with?