The other night, I had the opportunity to gather with 4 dear conflict colleagues friends for dinner and conversation. These amazing dinners have been happening between the five of us, a few times a year, for over a decade. I call them my conflict gang – five seasoned conflict resolution professionals who have been teaching at the Centre for Conflict Resolution at the Justice Institute, for decades. The Centre, started in 1983, was the first post-secondary conflict resolution educational program in the country and is still one of the premier conflict resolution training institutions in North America. It is very skills-based and practical, involving role playing, cameras and feedback as well as assessments (if you so choose to go down that road).
One of the five was there at the inception of the Centre for Conflict Resolution. She also created an iconic course on Power for the Centre. I never had the opportunity to take it before she retired, but everybody else at the dinner either took it or co-taught it with her.
I’m sharing all this because I was so inspired by the conversation that I want to spark some of that fire within you too (and set the context first). We ended up entering into quite the spirited conversation about what power is and I was lucky enough to learn from them all. I’d like to share that with you! I’ve apologized to them all in advance if I’ve not quite got it right. It just seems to important to keep to myself!
The key take away I got, firstly, is a definition for what power actually is. As a conflict mediator, I have the privileged position to talk with a lot of people in conflict. And, as many of my colleagues attest anecdotally, often times each party says they don’t have any power and that they think it’s the other person who has all the power.
A classic example from my own experience as a mediator (I’ll make up the pronouns to help keep the story straight): I interviewed an employee who said he was afraid for his job and that his boss (therefore) had all the power. Imagine my surprise when I interviewed the boss (in pre-mediation) to find out that this person was afraid in a different way! She was concerned that her employee was affecting her reputation through “bad-mouthing” her to the whole team and impacting the team’s perspective on her. She also knew this employee knew her boss and was worried about that. Needless to say, she also felt powerless.
So, it was incredibly illuminating for me to hear my esteemed colleague’s definition of power the other night. Power is something that comes up a lot in conflict and I had never heard the definition she offered.
From the way I understand it, she defines power as that internal flow inside of us. Power is our life force – some could say our soul – or our life force energy – our chi
I’d never really thought of power that way. I’ve heard it defined as the amount of resources you have, or the ability to influence another person. But never before had I heard power being defined as the energetic force that exists inside you.
What came next in the conversation was also important. I asked how does one explain power inequities, where one party clearly has more “power” than another to “over-power.” I used the example of a four year old, where is his or her power if an adult abuses the child? There are ample examples of inequity of power.
The answer that I understood was also helpful. Life events do seem to conspire to give us the experience that we have no power. But, I was told, our power gets covered over and we don’t realize we have it. So part of our journey in life then becomes one of uncovering and reconnecting with our own power – and with the ultimate power, the Source of all.
We also spoke about how there is power in coming together, that there is something powerful about the convergence of power. The image I got was a series of tiny lights coming into one strong life.
Power is amplified together, and powerful thoughts and ideas can be amplified when we join together in harmony with those thoughts.
So, to be directed to focus on my own internal sense of power and to feel its connection to the Ultimate Power and its connection to others of like mind, is inspiring to me.
Hope you felt a little spark there! Would love to hear your thoughts on what helps you connect with authentic, love-oriented power. I say that because power also has a reputation to hurt and that is not what I am calling authentic power, but a “power over” or over-powering another. These are different concepts.
For now, I am excited to share a new definition for power and how it can be amplified! Hope you are too.
“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any”. … Alice Walker