A New Definition of Power

by Gregory Toole

The first definition of “power” in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “the ability or right to control people or things.” This is very much our traditional definition of power. It involves power over people or things. A definition further down the list in Merriam-Webster, the “ability to act or produce an effect” is closer to the definition of power I am putting forth here.

Many have a very negative reaction to the word power, usually based on negative experiences over their lives. So often we have seen power abused or misused for destructive purposes. We have also seen paradigms of domination and manipulation through the use of official power in the family, on the job, in government/politics, and elsewhere.

I remember attending a church seminar on power many years ago and noticing that my reaction to the whole subject was not positive. The idea that we would cultivate and hone our use of power was not appealing to me and it did not feel the least bit virtuous. But power itself is neutral. My current, evolved, and simple definition of power is “the ability to get one’s needs met or to make a difference in one’s world.”  With this new definition, we can see that it’s utterly important for each one to understand and embrace power. Nothing can be accomplished without it.

In truth, we all have access to infinite power. Power resides at the center of each one of us. It comes in the form of inspiration, determination, intentions, creativity, ideas, energy, innovative solutions, and a wide array of other forms. Our sense of powerlessness comes from our forgetting this truth that infinite power resides within us. It is not the power to control others; it is the power to create. Creating does not necessitate working against anyone or anything. Creating can be done in cooperation with the intention that everyone wins.

The main reason we have so often seen paradigms of “power over” is that collectively we have bought into the underlying belief in “win-lose.” As long as we believe there must be a winner and a loser then we will continue to use power destructively and in opposition to one another. The moment we open to the possibility that everyone could win and no one has to lose, we open the door for the creative power in us to reveal win-win solutions. Our creativity is unlimited, but we have collectively limited it with our belief in win-lose.

Restorative justice is a great example of moving into win-win paradigms. In typical punitive justice models, the perpetrator of the crime must be punished and the victim really gets nothing except the realization that now each person has lost, a true lose-lose paradigm. In restorative justice, the idea is to make everyone whole again, which is a win-win paradigm. A solution is found so that the person who committed a crime must now take actions to restore the person and the community subjected to the crime to wholeness again. The person who committed the crime must also take responsibility and the necessary actions that would make themselves whole, recognizing the error of their ways and rehabilitating so as not to repeat the behavior. It is not a solution that fits for all crimes, but where appropriate it is a model of win-win.

Another example of win-win is when members of opposing political parties find common ground to work out a solution to an issue. While this seems rare in our times, it is the direction toward enlightened leadership, and it doesn’t only begin in the capitals of our nations. It also begins with each one of us making the shift, whereby we no longer accept lose-lose paradigms and we no longer see the world through the lens of lose-lose paradigms. What happens in our nations’ capitals and in our corporate board rooms is to a great extent a mirror of the collective consciousness of all of us. It is we, all of us, who are being called to make the shift.

What is critical is that we each recognize our own power and accept others’ power, and that we stop fearing power. When the truth of our limitless individual and collective power becomes clear, lose-lose and win-lose paradigms will not make any sense to any of us. Yes, there will be those who will cling to those old models for ego purposes, but most of us will go for win-win when we realize it’s possible. It is not our true nature to want others to lose, and once we see that our own possibilities are limitless and not dependent on others losing, there will be very little incentive to support the outmoded paradigms that involve gaining at the expense of others.

Perhaps I am the ultimate idealist, but I believe this is not only possible, but inevitable.

1 Comment

  1. therapyjourney says:

    I think also one of the most potent forms of power is sexual power, which is particularly appropriate to your definition power as “getting your needs met”.

    It’s funny though, when we think of “power” as something that people abuse and use to suppress others, this isn’t power at all, but its lack – it is fear.

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