Love and Power
I was particularly struck with the notion of power and love; in my view both so important in life. I am guessing that some people genuinely have love, some want to love but don’t know how. Others don’t have it and are honest about that, so at least you know the deal in working for them. The scenario that is worrying me the most is the ones that don’t have love but pretend they do – you are fooled for a while then the inconsistencies appear, only small things, but this creates doubt which I think eventually leads to the notion of feeling cheated or let down and finally lack of trust.
This chapter, where you describe your discomfort at a development week, helped me a lot – - because your recoil at the ‘inviting and honouring’ reassured me that my incipient discomfort about parts of the first couple of chapters – when I encountered what seemed like a bit much ‘kind/ gentle/compassionate’ and worried things were going a tad dark and soppy – was unjustified. Now I can see the writer doesn’t suffer soppy gladly.
We are in one of those old-fashioned lecture theatres in a university in central London. There is row-upon-row of eager faces, each row slightly elevated over the one in front in a steep bank, all facing the same way towards a speaker at the front of the room. I haven’t sat anywhere like this for more than 20 years since I was at university.
Back then, I was bored and unable to see through the dense communication on chemistry and pharmacology in which I was being educated. I was a lost cause, that showed in the fact that I just scraped a qualification and inevitably found myself more drawn to the social, than academic, side of university life. Today though, my attention has been gripped by a lecture, a form of education in which I had lost faith a long time ago.
Course tutor and scriptwriter Robert McKee stood over his lectern, slightly hunched, a face worn with lines and a scowl that kept the most disruptive of his student audience as quiet as church mice. He dared you to be disinterested. Over four long days he talked at us with no interaction required or expected until the breaks hit us. At this point, rather than flood the world with speech, we mostly ended up reflecting and processing a fraction of what had been thrown out to us.
I was there with my father-in-law to learn about screenwriting.
On the third day, McKee hit us with his concept of the ‘negation of the negation’, something he felt was at the heart of the screenplays that reached inside us and helped us feel the painful reality of the world. The plot twists and turns would not simply move from one pole to the other and back again, that was the stuff of simple fairy tales. From good to bad and back again; from love to hate and back again; or from joy to sorrow and back again. The ‘negation of the negation’ was a dramatic vehicle that posed an irresolvable dilemma. The example that hit me hardest on a personal level was the plot at the heart of a film called Ordinary People released in 1980 and directed by Robert Redford.
The relationship between the character of the youngest son and his mother was predicated on the societal expectation, (and presented image), of love, while the reality of the experience felt more like hatred – especially in contrast to the relationship between his mother and older brother. It represented the ‘negation of the negation’ – to be hated while being told that you are loved; to be hated while it looks, to the rest of the world, as if you are being loved.
What a powerful and terrible position in which to be put, knowing whichever way you turn is unpalatable at best, life-destroying at worst: In this case, having to accept your mother hates you or living a lie and pretending to yourself and others that she loves you.
I am sitting looking through my phone lens, pretending to take a video of my two children and their two friends dancing maniacally to ABBA’s Mamma Mia. They range in age from three to seven years-old, throwing their hands around, shaking their heads, periodically jumping, and taking up the space in the room. This has emerged without a plan or an announcement that it was going to happen. I am struggling. What makes this scene a little more unusual is that three of the four parents in this scene have also started dancing – my wife and her two friends. It is just after lunchtime, there is no alcohol involved and I am frozen. “Come on daddy!” says my eldest. I am paralyzed by what I imagine is a double bind, an irresolvable dilemma.
I know all about the theory of spontaneity and precisely what it is in my psychological development that fears it, I have worked hard in the professional setting for this not to be a problem and now, I realise, caught truly off-guard, how little progress I have made. “Be spontaneous” is the internal command. And yet, the harder I try, the further I am from being spontaneous and the phonier I feel when I have a go. If I don’t try, I feel defeated by my inability to let go and join in. So though it is better to stay stuck in the contradiction, this place is also full of anxiety. I smile and grimace my way through the song, relieved that, in the 1970s, singles tended to last less than four minutes and that the dancing spontaneously moves onto something else afterwards.
I think the two conflicting messages in my head were something like ‘be spontaneous and creative’ combined with ‘don’t look silly. It’s shameful to lose control’.
WHAT IS THE WAY THROUGH THESE DOUBLE BINDS?
This concept of ‘double binds’, or irresolvable dilemmas, is at the heart of the challenge our large organizations are now facing. The irresolvable dilemma at the heart of the transition is our Flawed but Willing in environments where they are asked to be creative and yet take no risk.
I have an instinct that the double binds are here as a key part of the transition from one age to the next. They are here to teach us something and give us something as we experience them. They are here because, without them, it wouldn’t be a phase shift; it would just be an incremental step from one place to the next.
If you are going to make it through this transition where you encourage things to get worse and not only better; where you are stumbling through and are not easy to idealize; where the in-between phase is anxiety-provoking, disorientating and ambiguous, I suggest you need a rare integration of power and love to see you through.
ABUSIVE OR ANAEMIC?
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 to the rest of us. Yet I keep coming back because there is usually a nugget or two that shifts my understanding of, or insight into, the world of work fundamentally. 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 other’s 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? Am I 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’ for me and I am left to my own devices, with my grumpiness. I keep going to the classes, but am in half a mind to book an early flight home to my family. I’m glad I stayed; on the Wednesday night we start 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 is an optional session after dinner on the Wednesday evening. I was surprised to hear the audience noise as I opened the door and peered at a sea of ‘backs of heads’ as I looked for a seat. I would have preferred a seat that allowed for a quick exit if needed, but I had no such luck and found myself ushered to one half-way down the room, on the far left, with only one exit point to the row.
There are eleven pairs of knees between me and my escape route. We settle down and I keep my coat on, defiantly – my signals have never been subtle. I am quick to give in, however, and the layers of clothing start coming off as the presentation and conversation pique my interest.
There is a particular section in which a quote attributed to Martin Luther King is offered up. I hadn’t heard it before, it nailed it, and finally I had some justification 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 realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anaemic.
King, Martin Luther Jr. 19675
This was delivered with impact to an audience clinging hard to the notion that love is the only way through anything with which we are confronted. They have grown up, as I have, in a series of Industrial Age institutions. We have been encouraged to believe in cultures ruled by patriarchs who manifest their power through domination and submission. Personal drive and stamina win the day, we have been 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 marginalized.
How should we respond when faced with this problem?
With an overwhelming emphasis on love as a polar opposite to the form of power from which we have suffered. But love without power is sentimental and anaemic. (See figure 9)
That is not to say love isn’t needed and magical, we just have to find a way in which both these forces can be integrated if we are to find our way though to the next age. So, in building our channel, we want to strengthen it with both power and love, (or with whichever words mean something to you and illustrate these concepts). (See figure 10)
This integration is a different kind of consciousness than exists, at present, in most large organizations and most communities of change agents.
I have used the concepts of love and power to structure the following section of the book. Looking at mindsets, feelings and behaviours that can strengthen us to be ‘fearless and unwavering as an expression of power; to be aware and gentle as an expression of love’.
There is no attempt to define a formula here (or ‘six steps to heaven’). It is just a structure that will do for now and may serve no other purpose than to make the navigation of this book a little easier.
Each capability also breaks down into three sub-sections, outlining practices that may help develop the capability.
‘Inside myself’ practices. Working on the intra-personal level, what is the work to be done on my own ways of being, thinking and acting?
‘Between us both’ practices. Working on the inter-personal level on the relationships between myself and others.
‘Across us all’ practices. Working on something beyond the inter-personal. The spirit that connects us all in an organization above and beyond our individual relationships. Those that have been here before us can inform practices, as much as can those with whom we currently work.