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Responding to Power Over

Despite your best intentions, you find yourself getting caught in the dynamic of "power over" and "power under" (for descriptions of these terms go here:  span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: Verdana; color: rgb(17, 85, 204); text-decoration-line: underline; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">http://www.wiseheartpdx.org/post/731).  You notice that you are either submitting, defending, or pushing back in attempt to gain the power edge.  You would like another way to respond.  You would like to stay grounded in a "power with" consciousness, regardless of what is happening for the other person.  Let's look at one practical approach to cultivating "power with" consciousness.

 

STEP 1:  CELEBRATE  & ACCESS COMPASSION

Celebrate the fact that you are noticing the power dynamic.  This is an essential first step.  You might also be pleased to notice that the reason you can recognize a power under/power over dynamic is because you have had the experience of shared power, honor, and consideration.  

 

Find compassion for yourself and the other person by reminding yourself that power under/power over dynamics are often very well worn habits and woven into large social systems and thus not so easy to change.  Intervention requires patience, perserverance, and support.

 

STEP 2:  OBSERVE "POWER WITH"

In learning to respond from a sense of groundedness and mutual respect (power with), a simple first step is to make subtle observations of interactions in which "power with" is the norm.  These observations could include both innner and outer variables.  For example, observing your inner experience of "power with" interactions, you could reflect on the thoughts, feelings, beliefs, needs, energy, images, and impulses present for you.  Observing outer variables you might track things in yourself and the other person like posture, eye contact, words, and gestures.  

 

For tracking outer variables it might be easier to simply observe others.  Watching someone who is in a position of authority and has a "power with" consciousness may be most useful.  Someone like this has likely learned subtle ways to invite collaboration, affirm autonomy, set boundaries, and create a sense of fairness, equity, and inclusion.  This person likely doesn't attempt to establish themselves as "the one who knows" or the one "in charge."  They simply offer what they can when the context and people present call upon them.  They typically don't defend or push their views onto others.  You might experience them as having a quiet confidence.  If you have someone like this in your life, observe them as often as possible while continually asking yourself, "How are they sharing power?  How are they including others?  How are they offering honor and consideration to others?"

 

STEP 3:  CHOOSE SPECIFIC DO-ABLE PRACTICES

Based on your observations of "power with" interactions, choose something specific and do-able to practice the next time you find yourself in a power under/power over dynamic.  Make sure the practice is simple enough that you can do it even in a difficult moment.  Take time to reflect on these interactions later.  Identify what you did (internally or externally) or said that escalated the dynamic and that which de-escalated.  Set an intention and articulate a specific and do-able practice for the next power under/power over dynamic that occurs.

 

Practices to help you stay grounded in a power under/power over dynamic might be like one of the following:

  • Stand in an upright balanced posture

  • Move your attention back and forth between you and the other person:  What's important to me?  What's important to them?

  • Breath into your abdomen

  • Offer responses that delay habitual yes/no answers:  "I will consider that and get back to you."  "Let me think it over."  "In this moment, I don't know.  I will tell you tomorrow."

  • Make gentle eye contact as you speak

  • Repeat a mantra internally like:  "My needs matter equally."  "I don't have to have control this."  "It's okay not to answer a direct question."  "I want this to work for both of us."

  • Have some standard empathy guesses "in your pocket" to offer in the face of what you perceive as an invasive questions or demands.  For example:

    • "You care about me, huh?"

    • "Sounds like this is important?"

    • "Hmm, I am guessing you want predictability?"

    • "Sounds like you're passionate about this?"

    • "You want things to go well?"

 

STEP 4:  ACCESS SUPPORT & FIND CHEERLEADERS

Unfortunately many power under/power over dynamics are born from situations in which reward and punishment was a common practice.  This kind of unhelpful feedback escalated power under/power over dynamics.  As you move to a stable sense of power with, cheerleading from others, positive feedback, will be instrumental in allowing you to create a new relationship to power.  Cheerleading might be as simple as someone saying, "It's important to do what's right for you."  Cheerleading might also be especially important when you establish a new boundary.  In this case your cheerleader might say something like, "You get to choose your boundaries."  You are a socially wired animal, so this social feedback is essential for establishing new ways of relating.

 

As you choose to study these dynamics, access support, and practice in simple and specific ways, you will find a sense of groundedness that becomes stable.  You may find that from this stable groundedness you are able to speak out about power under/power over dynamics you observe in your personal relationships and in larger systems.  You may find you are able to collaborate with others to create relationships and systems that support equity, honor, and consideration for all.

 

Practice

Take a moment now to reflect on an interaction you had recently that was marked by a sense of mutual consideration and respect.  Name one thing each of you did to contribute to that mutuality.

 

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