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Who's Got the Power?

Updated: Sep 1, 2019

Last year, Michelle Dean wrote an article, "Extra Strength" in The New York Times Magazine, discussing the perception of power and what it represents to different individuals, making the point that "the question of who holds 'power' is a constant, each side insisting it lies with the other," emphasizing that

"[e]veryone. . . seems always to believe that power lies elsewhere." She also explains the various types of power, clarified by Harvard relations scholar, Joseph Nye, as "hard" and "cold" - the former referring to leverage one holds over another with physical force or economic resources, and the latter relating to influence by persuasion through "seductive" language or kind gestures. Dean's statement: "The chaos and multiplicity of power, then, can be something of a magic trick, keeping us arguing forever about who has it," seems to summarize the theme of her article which prompts me to respond with a different point of view.


It is important for each of us to recognize that we have power and that the most important source of power is our self-awareness and inner strength which lead to a deep understanding of our needs/wants, emotions, and goals; our ability to express these effectively; positive self-esteem; as well as a high level of confidence. These create a sense of empowerment - true power. Inner power allows us to withstand the temporary frustration of being unable to manifest more satisfying external results. It keeps us grounded and able to resist the insults, indifference, ignorance, and any other non-supportive words and behavior directed our way. It ultimately inspires us to stay connected to a positive, loving sense of ourselves no matter what is going on around us. As we are able to fully accept, embrace and love ourselves, we are then more capable of being patient with, understanding of, and kind to others.


Nelson Mandela is a beautiful example of someone who was able to endure the hardship of imprisonment at the hands of cruel captors, by connecting to something stronger, more positive and loving within. He earned the respect of those who initially punished him as well as those in high political places. Mandela was ultimately able to influence his people - African natives, so full of anger and disrespect for the government - to put away their hatred and weapons, and instead to forgive, using their peaceful power of personal choice to bring about new leadership. As the new president of South Africa, Mandela could then be a shining example of forgiveness, of a more restorative response to hatred and violence born of an insidious racism. He showed the way to a more collaborative spirit, including the ideas, needs, and desires of all people, including the original oppressive white government officials.


Mandela's story highlights both "hard" and "soft" power. It also illustrates that inner power allows us to remain calm, peaceful and loving in the midst of outer turmoil, that it can influence others in a more productive and peaceful way. Let us recognize our power within and use it to honor and support the power of others. Life is not about me against you; it is about all of us honoring each other and finding a way to work together for the common good. This is the power we all have and the only one that matters!! This is the restorative way.



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