The abyss of power

This page is not about gender differences (tho it does appear here and there) but about “empowerment”. This page contains a collection of links related to noted patterns from experiencing the Dutch Montessori school system, additional teachings from various indigenous tribes that worked for me, and the odd useful book or essay:

What is power?

In physics, power is the rate of doing work. The triggering technology for the change from an agricultural to an industrial organisation was steam power, allowing mass production and reducing the agricultural work necessary.

For humans to “have power over self” means to have the ability or capacity to act or do something effectively. In social science and politics, power is the ability to influence or control the behavior of people, most often to have them do work in an otherwise highly unlikely social contract. The term “authority” is often used for power perceived as legitimised by the social structure. If a human can effectively steer another human to do a particular job, instead of spending the energy required to do the job him or herself, is that person “having power over self”, or is that “having power over others”?

And there you have it. All of the necessary ingredients for insanity, as many people try to distinguish between “power over others” and the “real power” with lots of “Good” and “Evil” labels.

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Which is better, power over self or others?

Power over self. Taking power over others is extremely hard if not impossible, a temporary illusion at most, and results in feelings of emptiness. The cost is also very high. To take someone elses freedom (to act) takes a loss of your freedom (to act). Power over self is somewhat possible (but still takes serious effort) and results in more personal freedom (to act). Maybe we can learn something from other societal structures?

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Empowerment, my ass!

Then of course there are those that love to “inflict help” on others. The new buzzword is “empowerment”. Of others of course. Do-gooders. To make you feel even more powerless. As if that is possible. Our past and what we’ve been taught leads us to believe and experience life as we do. The key to living a meaningful life is simply to unlearn some of the nonsense we have learned.

Personal empowerment is called “non-caring” by some traditions, but doesn’t mean not caring about other people. It also does not mean not caring what others think. Personal empowerment is very vulnerable to the emotions and attachments of living. The self is responsible for these. Others can not create emotions in me, and I can’t create them in others. Whatever the other person does is their choice and I will not attempt to control that. I’d rather walk away and put my energy into taking care of what is true inside of me. Any attempt to control another person is a flighty illusion in my book. We cannot control others, at all, ever.

If it appears to be true that my manipulation made you do some thing, then for whatever reason, you chose to do that some thing. In other words, you agreed to do it. You chose it. You can choose to change your response and experiment with other responses the next time a similar situation occurs. Or not. That is still a choice you make.

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Psychologists use the term “socialisation” for the process by which children are trained to think and act as society demands. A person is said to be well socialised if he or she believes in and obeys the moral code of his or her society and fits in well as a functioning part of that society. Like pets maybe?

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According to Ted Kaczynski, the power process (that I associate with “meaningful achievements”) has four elements:

The three most clear-cut of these we call goal, effort and attainment of goal. (Everyone needs to have goals whose attainment requires effort, and needs to succeed in attaining at least some of his goals.) The fourth element is more difficult to define and may not be necessary for everyone. We call it autonomy.

What if we stop teaching kids to be obedient cogs in social structures, but instead provide an environment with resources for self-directed learning and development, and a “teaching” attitude of “Give only that which is asked, and only that which we can give with heart”, meaning, without expecting a “return on investment” or allowing ourselves to get drawn in for whatever reason? Some additional “teaching by example” as supportive function may be useful as well. Off the top of my head from my experiences:

  1. Allow kids to follow their own nose, not yours.
  2. Set an atmosphere of humour, including some delightful self-mockery as example.
  3. Except for real mental illnesses, sobriety for kids. No ritalin, risperdal, zyprexa, seroquel …
  4. Allow kids to actualise themselves not only as winner (by meaningful achievement) but also as loser (for resculpting posture, self concepts and taking responsibility).
  5. These ways, when practiced and integrated, can never be taken. We can be killed for it if we are considered a threat by “civilised” society, but our core power can not be taken as it is based in realistic self-confidence and having our own captain aboard.
  6. Allow for competition (for the kids to improve self with) and cooperation (for the kids to find out what their selves truly know).
  7. Teach realistic self-reflection on strengths and weaknesses by example, in little bits and pieces.
  8. Also by example, teach conquering the enemy within (where that “enemy” is some oversocialised “correctness pretender voice” blocking further development).
  9. Exercise (as temporary as possible) mentoring roles with care and great consideration. Get out of the role immediately when done. Shake it off. Mentoring is not an “identity”, just an occasional temporary state.
  10. Commit to further self-actualisation. Drop an unexpected nose type wisdom, see how those around you respond. If you find your self in an environment where you can not contribute meaningfully and/or follow your nose to learn some “thing” that attracts (or repels) you, apply the Law of Two Feet.

That’s it in a short and generalised version (from memories of experiences). If you so wish, you can find more information on Montessori ways and what forms Montessori and its offshoots took in your locality:

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