Excerpted from this article. Dacher Keltner is a researcher at UC Berkeley, founder of Greater Good Science Center, and speaks about these themes in his latest book on power.
SEED QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: How do you relate to the notion that power is the medium through which we relate to one another? Can you share a personal story of a time you realized that power is give to us by others, rather than grabbed? What has helped you view power from a service perspective as opposed to a Machiavellian perspective?
The question, how do you relate to the notion that power is the medium through which we relate to one another initially caused me to recoil. I have lived the Machiavelli definition of power. As a child and young adult, my experience of powerful people is that of aggressive victimization by bigger stronger scary people. As a young child I understood myself to have power however I often gave my power away. It was either to avoid conflict because someone was going to grab it away from me any way, or so as not to assume responsibility for it. It’s interesting when I reflect on my youth I was either denied any power or I was accused of having omnipotent power. Either I was worthless incapable of anything, or through one mistake or transgression I was capable of great and horrific things (Just look what you did!) I remember age seven or eight thinking, ‘someday they will realize who I really am and they will be sorry’. Not sorry that they will feel incredible physical pain, but sorry that they will feel badly about how they treated me.
Based on my past experiences, I believe power requires responsible actions to ensure no one gets hurt. I’m reminded of the great line in the Spiderman movie when Uncle Ben says to young Peter Parker, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. As an adult, in my work, I find myself in a position of power. In fact, I have the power a Machiavellian would dream of. Perhaps because of my childhood experiences today I am committed to reframing the concept and definition of power for myself and to use my position to interject it into the way business is conducted. I am in the position to create the work environment that encourages and inspires people to work for the common good. I choose to harness the power of positivity, love, kindness and respect. I choose to use the power of kindness to be the medium through which I relate to others. I “aspire to be someone who has the almost magical power of spreading happiness and confidence wherever he goes” (Norman Fischer).
I found this message very useful in my personal interactions. It reinforces another message i received the same morning. I have inserted it below hoping you may find it useful too.
Bowl of Saki, July 12, by Hazrat Inayat Khan
Commentary by Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan:
Each one has his circle of influence, large or small; within his sphere so many souls and minds are involved; with his rise, they rise; with his fall, they fall. The size of a man's sphere corresponds with the extent of his sympathy, or we may say, with the size of his heart. His sympathy holds his sphere together. As his heart grows, his sphere grows; as his sympathy is withdrawn or lessened, so his sphere breaks up and scatters. If he harms those who live and move within his sphere, those dependent upon him or upon his affection, he of necessity harms himself. His house or his palace or his cottage, his satisfaction or his disgust in his environment is the creation of his own thought. Acting upon his thoughts, and also part of his own thoughts, are the thoughts of those near to him; others depress him and destroy him, or they encourage and support him, in proportion as he repels those around him by his coldness, or attracts them by his sympathy.
Each individual composes the music of his own life. If he injures another, he brings disharmony. When his sphere is disturbed, he is disturbed himself, and there is a discord in the melody of his life. If he can quicken the feeling of another to joy or to gratitude, by that much he adds to his own life; he becomes himself by that much more alive. Whether conscious of it or not, his thought is affected for the better by the joy or gratitude of another, and his power and vitality increase thereby, and the music of his life grows more in harmony.
~~~ He who can quicken the feeling of another to joy or to gratitude, by that much he adds to his own life.
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Power is a relational concept and experience. When we try to control somebody in the orbit of my relationship and feel good, great and superior to the other, we loose our wholesome connection with the other person.Empoweng oneself at the cost of others is the root cause of exploitation causing adversarial relationship. When we use power to help the other, to be connected with the other on equality basis, and with love in our heart, power becomes a great positive force. It results in giving and sharing rather than taking and controlling.Power can kill and power can heal. One has to make a wise choice.
I work with children and help them to make wise choices in relating to other children and their teachers. When they get caught up in a power struggle situation with another child ot a teacher, I ask them to play a pillow game.In this game. The person who feels like " I am right and he is is wrong'', I ask both the children to take turns and let the other child know that he indeed understand his or her perspective empathetically. The other child goes through the same process.Listening to each other with an open mind and empathetic heart builds bridges and not walls. We need to build more bridges of empathy, respect and actions.
I use the same model in interpersonal communication and relationship. If we do not learn and practice such positive way of working on our relationships on all levels family, community, economic and political, we are planting and nurturing the seeds mutual destruction.
May we keep our mind and heart open to relate to differences wisely and constructively!
Jagdish P Dave
We each have our personal power that we bring to a relationship, and it is at least part of the medium through which we relate to one another. Owning my personal power makes it easier for the other to own his or her personal power. I can't make anyone do anything -- I can make it more or less difficult for the other to express or do whatever. Power isn't given to us by others. My power is mine; each person's power is their own. It's my birthright to own my power. I don't need to grab my power -- it's simply mine to accept or reject. Satisfaction that I feel from using my power to be of service has helped me view power from a service perspective, and dissatisfaction from using my power in a manipulative, dishonest, coercive way has helped me reject a Machiavellian perspective.