Let’s begin by making plain the goal of this article. I want to convince you that power is an ever-present & omnipresent reality that should be exuberantly embraced and unabashedly employed for the maximization of those around you.
Defining beauty and power.
What is Beauty? Beauty is goodness made visible. At times, the beauty of an object or idea is hard to see. It can be obscured when that object or idea is misused or misunderstood—this is especially common for power.
The beauty of power is often obscured by the blemishes of power.
After all, it is the blemishes (and not the beauty) that make for eye-popping headlines. Stories of abuse committed by people with power are innumerable, even expected. The notion of power as beautiful has been overpowered by the notion of power as corrupting. Yet the goodness that power promises and produces surrounds us daily—yet goes unnoticed.
What I want to do is to share a perspective on power that will cause you to see power in a new light. A perspective that will cause you to say, “Power is indeed a beautiful thing.” Furthermore, I want you to walk away saying, “I am glad—not guilty, fearful, or ashamed—that I have so much of it.”
So, let’s define power. What is it, exactly?
Here’s a definition for you to consider. Though incomplete and imperfect, allow this definition to serve us for today: Power is the ability to cause your reality to match your will.
You will know how much power you have in any given situation by taking note of the proximity between these two factors (1. your reality, 2. your will). In any given situation, the further your reality is from your will, the less power you have in that situation. And the closer your reality is to your will, the more power you have in that situation.
The simplest model of power at work is this: Your morning shower.
If you’re like me, you don’t want a cold shower in the morning. But too hot is also bad. So what do we do? We change the temperature of the water until it is exactly what we want. Not too cold, not too hot. We have the ability to make our shower just how we like it. We effortlessly cause our reality to match our will—the exact degree of our will.
In the shower, the proximity of our reality and our will is not just near, it’s spot on. We are showering with power.
And all is well... until someone decides to start the laundry.
What happens then? As hot water rushes away from our shower to the washing machine, our shower loses pressure and the temperature suddenly drops. At that moment, we know that our shower is doomed!
Try as we may, adjusting our shower controls will do nothing. Our reality is now under the control of the washing machine, and it’s far away from our will. We are powerless to fix it.
It is always easier to notice the great distance between your will and your reality than to see their great proximity.
A nice, hot shower is expected and therefore goes unnoticed. We don’t take notice of it because it’s normal to have control. But an untimely laundry interruption is all we notice when it happens. Great proximity of our reality and our will does not call attention to itself. But any amount of distance announces itself quickly and loudly.
And so, we have arrived at one of the first necessary observations about power. And it’s a paradox.
It would be easy to assume that power necessarily includes the power to see power at work, but just the opposite is true. As we go about our daily lives, we grow accustomed to our routines.
We take care of ourselves, we interact with our environment, and we connect with those around us. Seldom do we notice the role that power plays in every aspect of our lives—until we don’t get our way.
If we suddenly find ourselves powerless, we begin to see power at work (and it’s usually working against us!).
The more powerful we are, the less we see and understand power. The more powerless we are, the more we see and understand power. That’s the paradox.
(Please note: I am writing from the perspective of assumed goodwill. It is also true that powerful people with malicious intentions know very well how much power they wield and how to use that power to get what they want. That article is for another day.)
What should we take away from this? If you cannot identify significant experiences of powerlessness in your life, it may be worth considering that you are a person of substantial power—and paradoxically cannot see its effect in the lives of those around you.
How do we develop new eyes to see? We can listen to and learn from those who have experienced significant powerlessness in their lives. They will have tremendous insight on the role that power plays all around them.
What is the role of power? What goodness does it contain?
Among readers, there is undoubtedly a great range of experiences with parenting. From having wonderfully loving parents, to having no parents at all, to having emotionally absent parents, to having profoundly abusive parents.
Nevertheless, the idea of healthy parenthood exhibits a model of power used beautifully.
If a child is hungry (the reality of hunger pangs is far from their will to be satisfied), parents are aware and actively provide food to satisfy their hunger.
If a child is injured (the reality of pain is far from their will to be healthy), parents are alert and quickly provide wound care to promote healing.
If a child is cold (their reality of discomfort is far from their will to be comfortable), parents are present and wisely provide clothing and shelter to restore comfort.
In all these things, a child’s reality is far from their will—and a parent uses their power to bring that child’s reality into greater alignment with their will. Parents think not only of themselves but chiefly of the child’s welfare.
That’s goodness made visible. That’s power, used beautifully.
Here’s the final question: How do we do this for those around us?
Using our power for beautiful purposes begins with recognizing that we have power. Some of us have more power, others have less. But everyone has some degree of power to exercise. If we will not acknowledge and recognize the presence of our power, then we are more likely to misuse our power. We may even unwittingly hurt others with our power. If we are familiar with our power, we can strategically maximize its use for the good of others and ourselves.
Next, stay connected with the people in your life and learn about them. Learn about their opportunities and challenges. Know their resources and limitations. As you walk with others, gently ask permission to be welcomed more deeply into their lives. They may even reveal to you the ways in which your presence helps them. Or how you challenge them, in both healthy and unhealthy ways. Connection with others is the beginning of using your power for good in the lives of others.
Lastly, take on a posture of gentleness and humility. In my life, I have been dismayed to find that I have repeatedly injured others carelessly—and it has always begun with a misunderstanding of my own power. A small, careless word feels to me like a fleeting thought but lands on others like a jagged rock. In those moments, my intention means less than my impact. Gentleness and humility are the rails that will move me forward to reconciliation.
Let’s recognize our power, understand the good that we can produce, and use our power for the advancement and flourishing of everyone around us.
If you want to understand more about what the beauty of power looks like in a coaching environment join our upcoming free webinar on Empowerment in Coaching.
Understanding my own Colors of Worldview?
This article is part of a series that KnowledgeWorkx has published to explore all three of the Colors of Worldview in-depth, Power-Fear, Innocence-Guilt, Honor-Shame. If you would like to learn about your own color(s), check out this opportunity to discover your own Three Colors of Worldview profile, and get a personalized report:
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This article was contributed by Ming-Jinn Tong Intercultural Coach and founder of Cultivate.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.