The Power of With
The other day, I was in the community paying a bill when the manager of the business asked me for clarification on something I always say to him when talking about my work. He asked what I meant when I say; “people I work with”. He said I always say “with” instead of “for” when I talk about where I work and asked if the people I talk about are co-workers or what.
I explained the term “with” comes from conclusions I have made about how much our society is influenced by a “power over” way of thinking. This top down decision making process influences how we interact with each other and contributes to decisions we make everyday. I also think this power over mentality is so ingrained into our lifestyles we don’t even notice how destructive it is to a democratic society and the public good.
Power over influences everything we do (unless we work in a self-managed business, consumer or worker cooperative) at home. We have grown up with this and don’t know any different – it’s in our churches, schools, corporations, media broadcasts, athletics, workplaces, clinics, hospitals, local/state/federal governments, everything and everywhere.
As we talked, I realized that much of this understanding has come from working with people with disabilities. In this realm, to be an effective advocate and/or care provider I have had to re-examine what works and what doesn’t. Some times my vocabulary creates obstacles I must overcome. Words can cut like a knife. Words can build trust or tear it down. The power over paradigm doesn’t work in a community-based system. It only works at the doctor’s office.
Speaking of doctors, I have learned not to call people with disabilities “clients” because the terminology is depersonalizing and puts all of the control in the hands of the professional. People with disabilities don’t have a choice when a professional calls them clients, whereas, if you are a client of a barber for example, and the barber doesn’t do a good job on your hair you can go be a client at some other barbershop.
People with disabilities don’t have that option. Because of their disability – they are always a client. Sure they can fire the professional who works for them if they are not doing a good job- but they are still the client when everything is said and done.
In this light, I have come to the conclusion that one of the primary obstacles to many of life’s problems is the “power over” structure many of us incorporate into our daily lives. This power over hierarchy sets us up to fail because we have to look outside ourselves to get the answers that often times come from within. It’s intuition, the inner voice, the gut feeling that has been compromised by having someone else or something else tell us what to do and when to do it. Here are a few examples:
Power over – divides and conquers.
Power with – nurtures and heals.
Power over – the decision-making is a top down hierarchy.
Power with – the decision-making is linear and across the board.
Power over – divides people and makes them compete.
Power with – empowers people and connects them to each other.
Power over – separates people and isolates them.
Power with – includes people and values their being.
Power over – exploits and takes advantage.
Power with – builds trust and fosters hope.
Power over – respect is given.
Power with – respect is earned.
Power over – is totalitarian.
Power with – is democratic.
Power over – doesn’t take responsibility and passes the buck and blames it on others.
Power with – is reciprocal and takes responsibility for ones actions.
Power over – manipulates the truth.
Power with – is the truth.
Power over – fosters control of the work place and society.
Power with – fosters leadership within the work place and communication within society.
Power over – tells people what to do.
Power with – asks people what they want.
Power over – takes away peoples choices after their mistake.
Power with – gives people a chance to learn by their mistake.
Power over – tells people what to say.
Power with – listens, hears and cares what people have to say.
Power over – takes power away from people through deceit and intimidation.
Power with – gives people power through openness and honesty.
Power over – relies on false promises and innuendo.
Power with – relies on truth and the power within.
We are all in this world together and together we can work out many of today’s problems by becoming less selfish and more open to ways of thinking and living. The power of with begins with you, your family, and friends.
If you think it won’t work – you are right. But if you are willing to give it a try – it’s a start. You have to start something before you can finish it and it all begins with you!
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