What Power Is Not
(An excerpt from Lay Waste No Power)
tom walsh


It's also important to keep in mind what power is not.  Much of the misuse of our powers comes from our inability to distinguish between what truly is power and what is not power.  Sometimes we think that we can or should do things that we neither need to do nor should do, especially when it comes to our dealings with other people.  Sometimes this tendency stems from a desire to control other people's actions or thoughts, and sometimes it comes from a desire to control a particular situation.  Often, it even comes about because we want to help someone else by "making sure" that something turns out well.  As a teacher, I often get papers that obviously were written mostly by a student’s parents—an effort to help, indeed, no matter how misguided the motivation.  In these cases, though, we're talking about influence and not true power.  The parent who wrote the paper may influence the grade, but hasn’t used power to help teach the child.

Unfortunately, there are very few programs around that teach people how to deal with other human beings and how to use their powers effectively, so we tend to get our ideas of what we're supposed to do from other people who also haven't been taught how to effectively use their own powers to deal with other people without trying to control or manipulate them.

Parenting offers a perfect example of this phenomenon.  Many parents think that it's their duty to make sure their kids know right from wrong and behave in "socially acceptable" ways.  If they become too obsessed with this idea, then they try to control their children's actions so that they can't make any mistakes.

They often use their power, then, to try to control and manipulate, as if their kids were puppets on strings that can be controlled by a puppetmaster.  They really don't have any power over their children, though—they're using their power to try to influence the kids, who either accept their attempts and acquiesce, or reject the attempts and rebel.

If Heather drinks a beer when she's fifteen, then, her parents may use their energy devising punishment for her and trying to "force" her to see things their way—she shouldn't be drinking beer because it's against the law and because it can lead only to worse problems.  Typical behaviors on the part of parents are to tell Heather that she's wrong, that she's doing something terrible, that her actions are very disappointing.  They're using their energy, then, to say these things, hoping that their influence will affect Heather.  Their energy can't do so.  When punishment is involved, then they're using the punishment to try to create fear of future punishment that will influence Heather's future decisions.  Physical punishment works the same way—people use their energy to strike someone else, hoping that the fear of more physical abuse in the future will influence the other person’s decisions about what to do and not to do.

If Heather rebels against her parents' reactions, then the parents will use even more energy, now for two things:  first, to convince her that they've been right all along, and second to deal with the problem of rebellion.  Now the parents have to convince their daughter that she's wrong to question their judgment, and if they're unsuccessful in the attempt, what will the final result be?

Quite simply, there probably will be no final result—this conflict probably will go on for quite a while without any resolution at all.  And how much energy will the three people have used against each other, only to fail to convince the other side that they're in the right?  How much energy will have been spent in anger, resentment, fretting, obsessing and worrying?

This type of situation is quite understandable in societies in which people tend to see life as a series of conflicts.  In cultures in which many people have a "you and me against the world" philosophy, conflict is seen as the norm.  And while most people don't wish to be involved in conflict, they nonetheless see it as the most effective (and sometimes the only effective) means of problem resolution.

So while power definitely is not the control and manipulation of others (which could be seen as using power to try to influence), it also is not necessarily the ability to function in conflict situations.  In fact, some of the people who have been the most effective at conflict resolution have been those who have approached conflict with the attitude that they won't allow themselves to be drawn into it and forced to deal with it on someone else's level—Mohandas Gandhi and Mother Teresa are two incredibly successful people who come to mind.  They knew that the best way to approach conflict was to use their power being true to themselves, who they were, and what they stood for as human beings.  They weren't interested in emulating others who thought that power was the implementation of force in an attempt to resolve a conflict or to influence the actions of others.


From Living Life Fully Publications!

"Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers." This line—as well as an experience with a counselor some 13 years ago—has inspired me to examine the concept of how we use our power in positive and negative ways, with the end goal of helping people to be aware of the ways they use their powers--effectively and ineffectively.


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