What if power isn’t a zero-sum game?

Last night was day three of WiseFool Circus Camp that started on Monday. Last night, we did warm ups, acrobatics and then silks (a.ka. aerial acrobatics with hanging fabrics).  Once again, I’m finding myself thinking about power. Power is the ability to act. It also means strength.  As we go through learning acrobatics on the mat, I see a theme emerging in partner acrobatics: strength shared is strength reinforced. What follows is that power shared is power reinforced. A critical question is: what’s your orientation to power?

Contrary to what we are usually taught, power is not a zero-sum game.

Rather, we can choose to relate to power as though it is something each and everyone of us has by virtue of existing. The game –if we are won’t to think of it that way – is for each of us to work with our power to combine it with the power (ability to act, strength) of others.

In partner acrobatics, one person is the base. The other person is in movement. Sometimes, at least when learning a new move, the pair might use a spotter. Here’s what strikes me: the base is nothing without the person they are supporting. The person being supported is nothing without the base.

When we get instructions, we are constantly told to remember that we must simultaneously give awareness to and communicate with our selves and our partner. Why?

As the base, we have to be aware that we are firmly positioned – we’re the base after all. We also are asked to make sure we aren’t doing anything to damage our own bodies. Sometimes safety measure requires a simple quick self-check in. Sometimes it requires communicating with our partner – you know – “Can you move this way, please?”

Actually, this approach is a practice for the person in movement as well – be aware of self, be aware of your partner. Do no harm to either. Communicate to create safety and then navigate to create the most out of the partnership – which, of course, might involve taking risks together in order to open up creative possibility.

As I was leaving conditioning class this morning, I was talking about this with one of the teachers and a fellow student. Imagine, I said to them, if in our organizations and groups we all worked together like this. We would alternate roles – sometimes I am a base. Sometimes I am the person in movement. All the time, I am equally protecting my self and the other person/people.

All the time, I am conscious that the idea is to draw out each other’s strengths through working with our own.

What strikes me is that at the heart of these partnerships when they work well, is the existence of two dynamics: trust and equality.

We have to trust that each of us is working with our respective power to reinforce the power in the other.  We have to genuinely believe that we are equal to each other.

I haven’t fully worked through this point about equality, yet. I’m just starting to play with it. You see, in so-called progressive circles we love to talk about equality and how it is important and how we promote it. I’ve been wondering often, in recent years, to what extent do we actually live the value/principles.

What does it mean to be equality? What does it mean to truly, sincerely believe that I am equal to every other human being on this planet? When I reflect on various meetings I’ve been to over the year and various organizations I’ve worked in, I’m pretty convinced that the vast majority of us do not sincerely believe we are equal to every other human being.

That, however, is judging others. So, I’ll mention that I know for a fact that I’ve often in my life – including recently – thought myself superior to others. I’ve often also thought my self less worthy/inferior to others.

In any event, more on equality in a future post.

Early days in circus camp and I’m wondering: What if we all went about our days – particularly those of us in organizations and groups that say we are working to create a better/different world – seeking to see, bring out and build on the power/strength of ourselves and others? What if we did this with an aim to opening up our collective creative potential for social, economic and political re-creation?

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