Power and Love

Why do I put myself through these development weeks? They are always full of well meaning and warm individuals who are struggling to make their work relevant for the rest of us. Yet I keep coming back because there is usually a nugget or two that fundamentally shifts my understanding of, or insight into, the world of work. But this time, two days in I’m starting to doubt my own sanity; many of the rest of the participants have been together before so immediately they have their shared experience and language to fall back on. There is lots of ‘inviting’ each other to do things and ‘honouring’ of each others’ experience. Aaaargh! If one more person invites or honours me I will explode. At its worst this gathering feels like one of those 1970s cults I have read about but was too young to experience, they have their own spiritual leader, a text that is revered and a community of followers most of whom seem to have lost their ability to discern and challenge what is being presented to them. Why would they? Everything is a gift isn’t it? I am the only one chuckling to myself as I get fed up and say this to the group. No one else even smiles and there is a struggle to keep on loving me when I steadfastly refuse to be touched.

Subsequently there isn’t a lot more ‘inviting’ that goes on and my grumpiness is left to its own devices. I keep going to the classes, in half a mind to get home to the family and book an early flight out of there. I’m glad I stayed; on the Wednesday night we started talking about the importance of power to counter balance the importance of love if we are to change stuck societies and businesses.

The lecture room is packed, considering this was an optional session after dinner on the Wednesday evening, I was surprised to hear the audience noise as I opened the door and peered into a scene of backs of heads as I looked for a seat. Preferably one that would let me make a quick exit if need be. No such luck, half way down, on the far left, with only one exit point to the row, I am being beckoned over by one of the evening’s ushers.

There are eleven pairs of knees between my escape route and me. We settle down and I defiantly keep my coat on – my signals have never been that subtle. I am the first to give in, however and the layers start coming off as the presentation and conversation pique my interest.

There was a particular section in which a quote attributed to Martin Luther King was offered up, I hadn’t heard it before, it nailed it and I had some justification at last for my righteousness.

“You see, what happened is that some of our philosophers got off base. And one of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites, polar opposites, so that love is identified with a resignation of power, and power with a denial of love. It was this misinterpretation that caused the philosopher Nietzsche, who was a philosopher of the will to power, to reject the Christian concept of love. It was this same misinterpretation, which induced Christian theologians to reject Nietzsche’s philosophy of the will to power in the name of the Christian idea of love.

Now, we got to get this thing right. What is needed is a realisation that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anaemic.”

KING, MARTIN LUTHER JR. 1967

“Where Do We Go From Here?”

Annual Report Delivered at the 11th Convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, August 16, Atlanta, GA

This was delivered with impact to an audience clinging hard to the notion that love is the only way through what we are confronted with. They have grown up, as have I, in a series of industrial age institutions. Encouraged to believe in cultures ruled by patriarchs who manifested their power through domination and submission. Personal drive and stamina won the day, they were taught to believe in a world of leaders and followers, the most powerful moving to the top of the heap, the rest of us knocked down, accepting a belief that only the losers, the weak and inept allow themselves to be pushed aside, to be marginalised.

How best to respond when faced with this? With an overwhelming emphasis on love as a polar opposite to the form of power they have suffered from. But love without power is sentimental and anaemic.

That is not to say it isn’t needed and magical, we just have to find a way that both these forces can be integrated if we are to find our way though to the next age of organisations. So in building our businesses for the future we want to strengthen them with both power and love (or whichever other words work for you).

Power to me is an expression of valiance and persistence. The courage to dance on the edge of tolerance, one foot inside – one foot outside of the established order. To overcome the fear of being shunned or thought irrelevant. To stand in the incomprehension of how to cope; to lament and accept the losses and defeats along the way while not giving up on the ultimate intention.

Love to me is an expression of awareness and gentleness. An intelligence that is not solely intellectual, emotional or spiritual one that is in fact a kind of collective awareness. One that doesn’t know, can’t predict but that can sense – moment by moment and respond. To be able to return to an open heart, despite the defensive closed postures of others. A care for all you work with, not only those who like you.

I realise this is a big part of what has been integrated in me over the past year, to be fearless and unwavering as an expression of power; to be aware and gentle as an expression of love. Without apology for either part and with a joy for the whole.