Does the word make you shudder? Make you anxious? Secretly thrill you? Make you wish you had more of it? What is power, anyway, and why do so many of us think it’s a bad thing? Does all power corrupt? Should we all avoid having or using power?
This month at Tree of Life, we’ll be exploring the concept and experience of power. We’ll look at the possibilities of power and the dangers of it. We’ll think about its sources and whether some kinds of power can be used ethically. We’ll talk about forms of empowerment and the possibility of healthy power.
I think power is confusing because we describe several things using the same word. Sometimes we are describing an inner force like the one described by Serbian poet and writer, Dejan Stojanovic, who says:
I recreate myself; that is my only power.
This kind of power, which I would call “empowerment” is healthy and positive. It resides equally in everyone and is the kind of power that we, as Unitarian Universalists, rely on when we encourage every person to search for truth and meaning, trusting their own mind and heart. Democracy rests on this individual power to know, to choose, to create one’s own way.
But there is another kind of power—the kind that we fear will always corrupt –and that we see causing all sorts of injustice and pain in the world. This is kind of power, which I would call “domination;” happens in politics, in business, even in families, when one person insists that they are more important or more valuable than others. This is a kind of power that should make us anxious and we are wise to create ways to limit it and hold the people who wield it accountable.
There is also power that is neither personal nor domineering, but a power that is given by a community, which I would call “covenantal power.” This is the power, for instance, that the congregation gives to the Board or Minister when they elect or call them. This power is granted on the basis of trust and relationship, and it can sometimes be tricky to balance and maintain. It takes an abundance of honesty and communication, some patience and forgiveness, and ongoing and intentional trust to make sure that this kind of power doesn’t accidently begin to rely on impersonal rules and habits.
This kind of power is like a living thing that must be nourished and nurtured by everyone who is a part of it. To keep it healthy requires each person to know themselves (be self-aware and differentiated) and nurture healthy, direct connection with each other. Because covenantal power relies on trust, it is endangered by indirect forms of communication like gossip, complaints, and rumors. Because it relies on relationship, covenantal power is strongest when people are most engaged, committed, and invested in the community.
This month at Tree of Life, we will explore the ways that power is a part of us, our lives, our congregation, and the world and envision ways that it can be used in service to health, justice, and love.
Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. ~Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are