Some Thoughts on Power and Control

A friend of mine recently wrote that he was focused on “isolating and removing those elements in my life where others have power over me; financial, emotional, physical, mental, etc.”

I responded as follows:

It’s pretty much impossible to operate in this world without entering into power relations with others (unless you want to become a hermit— —something that has sadly disappeared from the world). We live in a society in which mechanisms of power operate at every level.

That being said, it’s important to distinguish between situations in which people have power over you (which, unless you are in prison or the military or a religious order or a child, is fairly rare for people of a certain class living in non-authoritarian societies) and situations in which obligations are created between yourself and others.

Even situations of employment, to the extent that they are not abject servitude or outright slavery, involve elements of exchange—my time and skills for your money and the opportunity to participate in a project directed, more or less, by someone else—and obligation (I have committed to this, you have committed to that).

My assumption is that you are struggling not so much with questions of power but with questions of control. You don’t feel in control of your time, your resources, your relationships.

It’s probably worth thinking about that and why that might be. Along the way, you will have to come to terms not only with power, but also with weakness and vulnerability. All the gurus of success and strength and manifesting power don’t want to deal with this and, in face, relegate weakness and vulnerability to a “victim mentality.”

I recommend, on the contrary, wondering why an ego feels so threatened and out of control, and experimenting with what it might mean to be completely powerless, not in the sense of being a victim, but in the sense of being someone whose entire mission is to serve others.

Here’s something else to consider.

The other day I wrote on Twitter, “Everywhere I see more successful versions of myself.”

An acquaintance saw that and reached out to see if I was ok and how he might help me be more “successful.”

Along the way, he asked what “success” meant to me. I wrote: “…to have and maintain a sense of openness and equanimity towards others and the world.”

As you can see, this has nothing to do with “success” in terms of prestige, fame, or accomplishment.

That being said, it does have something to do with power, specifically, the power to understand myself and work with those habits, behaviors and attitudes that stand in the way of openness and equanimity.

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