I’ve been thinking a lot lately about power. I have a strong sense these days that when it comes to changing the way we live together – to create more nurturing, restorative and regenerative communities – our outcomes depend heavily on our relationship with power. What does power mean to us? How do we acquire it/Where does it come from? How do we work with it? What are the defining characteristics of our relationship with it? When are we are most powerful? At the moment, my overarching answer to these questions is: power serves us best when it has its roots in self-love. And what follows for me is the idea that self-love has an important role to play in creating nurturing, restorative and regenerative social change.
Self-love might sound like narcissism. It might resonate of ego and arrogance when you read/hear the phrase. Yet, in my experience, only when I am truly loving my self do I let go of ego and arrogance. Why? Because when I truly love my self, I no longer feel like I have something to prove or defend. So what is self-love? If I were to define it, I’m inclined to give this definition: a belief in one’s own inherent worthiness of compassion, kindness and nurturing combined with actions that reflect this belief.
When I’m out of step with self-love, I tend to believe that I am not worthy of compassion, kindness and nurturing. Guided by this belief, I am unforgiving of myself, harsh, judgmental and toxic. I also navigate my external relationships steered by a corollary belief that I need to prove my worthiness. Guided by this belief, I imagine certain standards I think I need to fulfill, e.g. perfectionism, to become worthy. Or I might be steered by the belief that I need to protect myself from people realizing that I’m unworthy. Guided by this belief, I get defensive and build walls. Sometimes this defensiveness (which can seamlessly flow into offensiveness) can take the form of arrogance and a sense of superiority (which of course is at its root is the opposite).
Either way, I tend to become fearful and anxious; I fear the loss of worthiness or, worse, my inability to achieve it.
Out of step with self-love, I can be so busy focusing my attention on assessing what I imagine others are thinking of me or how I appear in a certain situation, that I have little to offer others. I become a poor listener, I lack empathy and I easily overlook the well-being needs of others.
What does this have to do with power and social change?
Power has its roots in “the ability to act or do, strength, vigor and might.” When I am in a state of “I need to prove something” or of defensiveness, I tend to lose control over my actions. This is the result of being reactive rather than response-able. I am not consciously responding to the present moment, instead, I am reacting to the present moment in the context of old fears, wounds and insecurities. This is a state of powerlessness. Yet, whilst in it, I can feel powerful – by seeking to assert control over others or a situation, by expressing anger, by judging, blaming etc.
When I am in a state of “I have nothing to prove, nothing to defend” I tend to gain control over my actions and by becoming response-able. I am led by being conscious of what is present in the here and now and the desire to work with the dynamics at hand: the dynamics active in me, others and the collective creative process. I seek to act in ways that serve my self and others well – that nourish, regenerate and restore. This form of power is completely dependent on my relationship with my self – on self-love and acceptance that enables me to be neither on the defense or offensive, but rather to be kind, compassionate and open to stepping into uncertainty.. The deeper and stronger the roots are, the more nourished I become – and in a state of nourishment I am able to give more to the relationships and communities with which I am connected. Thus, exercising this form of power restores and regenerates rather than depletes, exhausts, strains and stresses.
What does this have to do with social change?
My premise is that social change is a label we use to describe the process of creating different ways of living together and – like life – is a collective creative process. Who and how we are being in this process – and thus what we bring to it – is heavily determined by the kind of power we are manifesting (displaying the qualities/characteristics of). If we are manifesting power rooted in a sense of insecurity, lack and fear, we are likely to be bringing defensiveness, offensiveness, aggression, constrictions, rigidity, blame, toxic imagination and strains to the process. If we are manifesting power rooted in security – that is, a sense that our self-worth is not contingent on what happens in the process or on its outcomes – and we are wanting to feed in to the well-being of ourselves and other, we are likely to bring to the process openness, active listening, a desire to collaborate, flexibility, playfulness, forgiveness and nourishing imagination.
I cannot help but conclude that manifesting power rooted in self-love is essential to ensuring our collective creative process brings results in ways of living together that are nourishing, restorative and regenerative for all of us. I write this while having in mind that we are all human – and thus can and do slip in and out of self-love. What becomes important is that we are there for each other when this happens – there to guide each other back to self-love, back into this rich source of creative power.
Reflection questions: How would you describe your relationship to power? When do you feel most empowered? What do you think is the relationship between self-love and power? How would you like to change your relationship with power? What do you think is relationship between power and social change?