THE OTHER SIDE OF POWER
© Claude M. Steiner PhD
July 1, 2004
BOOK THREE; The Other Side of Power.
Chapter 16 Letting Go of Control
Chapter 17 When Men Give up Control
Chapter 18 How to Fill the Control Vacuum
Chapter 19 The Other Side of Power
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(Back to home?)
Letting Go of Control
So far I have given you an idea of how
control works and what you can do to prevent people from controlling
you. You may find difficulty in accepting that it is a good idea not to
respond to power plays with bigger power plays. We are so steeped in
the pleasures of control that it is hard to give up the joy
of sandbagging and flattening somebody who, obviously, illegitimately and
with malice aforethought, is trying to push us around. This book probably
would do very well if it was called How to Stop People from Pushing
You Around and Make Them Wish They Were Sorry for Trying, but that
is not my aim.
However, let us assume that you accepted the dignity of a
self-defensive rather than a retaliatory attitude. Yet, it might still be
difficult to accept the wisdom or practicality of searching for a cooperative
resolution with a stubborn power player.
a way, I am asking you to kiss your enemy and turn him into a friend, rather
than kill him. And, as if that weren't enough, I am going to suggest, now that
we know how to prevent others from controlling us, that we can and
should give up trying to control others altogether.
Assuming that you have agreed with most of what I have said so
far, I am ready to press my case to convince you to take that leap of
faith necessary for giving up control and making room for the other
side of power. Giving up control and filling the power vacuum left
behind is the topic of this section.
You might comment that in asking people to give up control, I am
proposing to do away with centuries of tradition-a system which runs
the "civilized" world-and replace it with some vaguely
defined ideas which sound like a watery kettle of fish. After all,
we are talking about rebelling against obedience, hierarchies, respect
for authority, the leader-follower relationship, everything we respect.
My response is that you are right: I am
asking for a great deal, but I am promising a great deal, too. I
am promising you a form of power, which, like the other side of
the moon, most of us cannot see and can only imagine. I am promising
you the experience that comes with being a powerful individual living in
harmony with yourself and with others as well as with your environment. I
promise you the peace of mind and satisfaction that comes from
the knowledge that to the best of your ability you are being a good
and fair person. And at the same time I am promising that your overall power
in the world will increase.
The way control holds sway of our lives affects many facets of our behavior. The way we use our bodies, the way we converse, the way we make love, the way we treat people who have less or more power than we have, the way we feel about women or men, about children, about old people, about people of color if we are white, about poor people if we are economically comfortable, about gay people if we are heterosexual and the way we feel about single people if we are in well-functioning couples are all affected by our power position and are all in need of scrutiny and possible change.
experiment in power reversal.
The first time that I became aware of the
extreme subtlety and omnipresence of control was in 1969, when Hogie Wyckoff,
wishing to give me a practical lesson on the subject, proposed that we go on a
date in which we switched gender roles. She wanted me to get
an understanding of how it feels to be at the receiving end of the
subtle and not-so-subtle forms of control behavior which occur between
men and women. She was to act as the "man" and I was to act as
the "woman" for the whole evening. This experience was at first
amusing, later alarming, and eventually mind-boggling.
We had agreed that she was to pick me up in her car. As I waited
for her, I approaching the date as a game, consciously exaggerated my concern
for what I was wearing and how I looked. I peered in the mirror, looking
for blemishes, and worried about whether she would be happy with my
She was to have picked me up at 6:00. At 6:05, she called me up.
"Sorry, but I was held up by an important phone call. I'm on
my way right now."
That meant that she was going to be about fifteen minutes late. At 6:15
I heard her car in the driveway, and the honk of her horn. I was ready to
go and since we were late, I thought I should possibly go out to the
street. But being a little irritated by her presumption, I stayed put. A
minute later she ran up the stairs, two steps at a time, and
loudly banged on the door. I took my time to get to the door, opened
it, and there she stood, full of energy, as if nothing at all was wrong.
"Hiya, cutie. How ya doing?" she
I, happy to see her, smiled back, and
answered, "Fine. Do you want to come in?"
"No, let's get going." I went back inside to get my
coat, and as we rushed down the stairs, she asked, "Well,
where do you want to go tonight?"
Before I could answer, she continued,
"I'll tell you what. I have a great idea. Let's go
I wasn't sure that I wanted to eat Italian
food that night, but it did seem like a good idea, and since I had no
other suggestions, I happily agreed. She walked me to the passenger side
of the car, opened the door, and helped me in. I dimly appreciated the
convenience of not having to open and close the door when getting into
the car. She strutted around the front of the car,
looking gorgeous, and flashed me a smile. Opening her door, she
got in, and before starting the car, she leaned over, and with one
hand high on my thigh, and the other on the back of my neck, pulled me toward
her, giving me a kiss smack on the mouth.
As she drove I noticed, for the first
time since I'd known her, that she was a good driver, expertly passing
cars, and accurately turning corners. I was also slightly uncomfortable
at her speed, occasionally pressing my feet against the floorboard. While she drove,
she spoke animatedly, sometimes looking away from the road in order
to gaze at me. We were in love and happy to be together. My
slight discomfort at being in the passenger seat (I usually
drove when we went out) was a very minor feeling, compared with my
excitement and elation at being with her.
As we walked to the restaurant, she held
my arm above the elbow and, ever so slightly, guided me down the
sidewalk. It was a crowded street, and she avoided collisions with other
pedestrians by jogging slightly to the right and to the left, always
indicating by a pressure on my arm, the direction she wanted to go. I
complied. She opened the restaurant door, and as we got inside she stepped in
front of me and signaled the maitre d'
"A table for two, please, in the back
of the restaurant. We would prefer a booth. Thank you."
We both noticed the host's puzzled look
and were amused by the situation. She was definitely feeling happy and I
was showing a good sense of humor as well.
We ordered drinks while we waited, and
when the host came toward us, attempting to ignore her, he said to me,
"Your table is ready sir." Hogie stepped between us and led the
way. Slightly startled, the maitre d' led us to the table. I sat first, while
she pushed the chair under me, and I thanked her.
Our role reversal was to be complete. As I
looked at the menu, I thought to myself, "I can order anything I
want ..." But then, I reasoned, I shouldn't be greedy, and settled on
a reasonably priced dinner. When she saw what I ordered, she said.
don't want to eat that. Listen." she purred, as she stroked my thigh
under the table. "I recommend that you have the veal Parmigiana.
It's really good here."
I was getting a bit confused. For one thing, she seemed to be enjoying
this charade immensely, while I was getting slightly uncomfortable. I
couldn't tell exactly why I was getting uneasy, but something was not right in
the situation. It was acquiring the proportions of a task rather than
being a game, and was beginning to interfere with my pleasure.
I said nothing and the rest of the meal went on uneventfully: both of
us had a good time. After dessert and coffee, she asked for the check,
ostentatiously paid for the dinner, left a tip, and led the way out of
the restaurant with me following closely behind and feeling sheepish.
Outside, we walked down the street.
"Let's do some window-shopping. There are some nice stores
around here." I agreed.
We went from window to window, as she stopped whenever she wanted to
look at something. She moved on, stopped and moved on and stopped, while
I tagged along. At some point, I wanted to linger at a window, and
after giving me an indication of her wish to go on, which I ignored, she
actually pulled me with some force. I resisted and pulled back. She gave
me a somewhat startled look, let go and moved on to the next window.
Confused, I stood still for a few seconds and then rejoined her down
the street. Clearly, the tension between us was mounting. We came to a
corner. As I was about to cross she stopped at a newspaper stand and
looked at the headlines. I had one foot off the curb when I realized
that she was not coming my way. In fact, having finished looking at
the newspaper, she decided to cross the other street and was clearly
indicating with her posture where she intended to go. I stepped back on
the curb and joined her.
At this point, I was definitely irritated. I was
silently considering whether I should bring up my irritation, but
it became plain to me that there was nothing really to complain about. I
needed simply to say, "I want to cross the street this way, instead of
that way. Let's cross this way," I said, and she answered,
"Well, all right. What difference does it make?"
"No difference. I just want to go this way."
"Sure. No problem." And from then on we went to the car
with me in the lead.
As we sat in the car, there was an
uncomfortable silence between us. I was feeling guilty for being irritated and
making an issue out of such a simple matter. She was silent and
withdrawn. After a while, she started on a new topic of conversation. The
ice broke, and we talked animatedly. As she drove, she touched me with
her right hand, stroked my hair, pulled on my moustache, caressed my
thigh, and was clearly feeling tender and amorous. I was still concerned
with my anxiety and irritation, and was not feeling very responsive.
Nevertheless, I appreciated her gentle tenderness.
"Your place or mine?" she asked.
"Let's go to my place," I answered.
"Okay, but I was wondering... I've got a great new record
I want you to hear. Let's go to my place. What do you think?" I
By now you are probably getting the idea of how this role reversal
affected me. Not only was it startling to experience in how many ways the male
role dominated my space and impaired my choices, but the complexity of
emotions I felt was amazing as well.
By the time we got to her place, I was in a definitely bad mood. She
continued in our role reversal, undaunted. She became aggressive sexually; I
became further confused. To make a long story short, for the first time in my
relationship with her, I experienced a lack of sexual interest and when I
tried to ignore this I was unable to my amazement and humiliation to
muster the necessary erection.
I hope this elaborate example will accomplish the following: For people
who are habitually in a passive position (this often happens to women),
this example might explain some of the feelings that you experience when
you spend time with someone who puts out strong, controlling
body language. It might help explain the nagging, confusing irritation
that grows very gradually out of a series of little, almost insignificant
power plays. Each little acquiescence doesn't seem worth noticing; but as
they add up, the net result is that you wind up feeling angry,
frustrated, turned off, and drained of energy without really knowing why.
For the person who is habitually in control, this example can give
you some idea of how your behavior affects others. You are not likely to
really understand how it feels to be with you unless the shoe goes on the
other foot, unless someone systematically succeeds in controlling you in
a similar way. Voluntarily switching roles in this experimental manner
will give you a very good beginning notion of what it is like to be in
the company of a person who embodies control in every move toward you.
In this example, Hogie's controlling behavior was accomplished
primarily through body language. When we switched roles, her physical
behavior changed from the usual. She leaned in my direction, towered over
me, touched me, held me, pushed me, pulled me, and invaded my space
in a way that I had literally never experienced before in my adult life.
Because her invasion of my space was loving-that is, it was primarily
affectionate and nurturing-it was also confusing. I had experienced that kind
of pushiness minus nurturing from dominating and aggressive males,
who, without touching me, invaded my space with their voice, their gestures,
and their energy. In those cases, however, my feeling was one of clear
resentment and rejection, but with Hogie, her intrusion was supposedly
loving so why was it so disturbing?
The answer to that question requires that we be able to separate
different behaviors in our awareness.
Control is one form of behavior. Love is another. I wanted to be
loved by Hogie, but I did not want to be controlled. Her action mixed
both types of transactions, and my reaction was therefore mixed. There is
a certain temporary pleasure in being controlled at times; when someone
else is in charge we can forget our responsibilities. Women are said to
enjoy being controlled by strong men who believe women will behave
accordingly when they try to please them. But even if a woman initially
responds positively to male control, it is likely that in time she
will lose her taste for the "Me Tarzan, You Jane" way of life.
This may take years but it will happen; people don't like to be
controlled for long even if they do at first.
The Control of Personal Space.
It is useful to realize that our bodies do not end at the surface of
the skin. Our skin is the outside boundary of our body only in terms of
what is visible to the human eye. But our body extends beyond our skin
for at least a few inches, and some people will say for a much larger
space than that. To illustrate this, let me revisit a familiar experiment involving a
couple of magnets, a nail, and a metal file. Set one
of the magnets on the table. To the naked eye, it does not extend
beyond the dark metallic bar that you can see. Lets call what you see the
visible body of the magnet. However, a magnet has an invisible (but very
real) magnetic field. This magnetic field can be made visible by taking
some iron filings (made by rubbing the file over the nail). Put a piece
of paper on the magnet and sprinkle the filings on the paper. You will
see the filings arrange themselves in a pattern. Now that this demonstration
has made the magnetic field of the magnet visible remove the paper and look at
the magnet again. In addition to the metal bar that you see, there is a
very real, though invisible, field of force that surrounds it. You may
actually be able to visualize that field and "see" it whenever
you see a magnet in the future. You will then be seeing the magnetic body
of the magnet. The visible body pertains to one level of energy: light
waves. The magnetic body pertains to another level: electromagnetic waves. Both are
real and both affect what happens to the magnet.
one magnet between the thumb and forefinger of one hand and take the
other between the thumb and forefinger of the other hand. Now visualize the
fields of the two magnets as you move them slowly toward each other. If
you pay attention to the forces in your fingers, you will experience how
the two magnets interact with each other. You may feel a point, as they
approach each other when there is a force pulling them together or you may
feel a repelling force, depending on how you’re holding them.
I use this example to illustrate something
that happens between people in quite a similar way. Each person has a field of
energy that surrounds her visible body and extends beyond it, all around it.
When another person approaches you, her energy impinges on yours. If you're
tuned in to that level of energy, you can actually experience it. Two
feet away, you might begin to feel a definite presence. At three feet away,
the experience will probably be quite faint. One foot away the presence will
be unmistakable. And as the person gets closer, your experience can
become extraordinarily intense-especially if she strongly repels
or attracts you, to begin with.
In our intimate human relationships, we
spend a lot of time in each other's space, within that three-foot limit.
How we use our energy with each other in that space is a
very important fact of our everyday life.
Have you ever had the experience of someone speaking to you and
standing uncomfortably close? This sometimes happens with someone from
another culture, where conventions about space differ from ours. But some
people are simply accustomed to crowding others physically. If it
made you uncomfortable, that person was probably trespassing on your
Have you ever gone camping
and, looking for privacy, found an area on which to lie down that was
just comfortably far enough from somebody else's campsite? And then has a
third party come to lie down between that other person and you, causing you to
feel invaded? Here again is an example of how we stake out a certain area
beyond our body that we would like to keep private and free of intrusion.
The subtleties of personal space and its boundaries have to do with the aura of
energy that we carry with us, and body language is a way in which people
relate to each other, through that unseen but very real energy field
which surrounds each of us. Most of us want certain distance from most
other people. If we become attracted to someone, we open our personal
space up and include that other person in it. If someone we are not
ready to accept in our space intrudes or pushes on it, we feel extremely
uncomfortable, even violated.
Another instance of the problems of
personal space is a common experience in intimate couples. Two people no
matter how compatible may and often do have different comfort zones in their
personal space. Usually one wants to be closer than the other would prefer. In
such cases all of the control issues we have spoken about can assert
themselves. If the person who wants more closeness happens to be dominant then
the submissive person will be forced to accept more intrusion than he or she
wants and may eventually feel suffocated, struggle and power play for space
and eventually even bolt. Conversely if the dominant person wants more space,
then the submissive partner will feel deprived and eventually starved for
contact and once again engage in power plays and still fail to get what is
needed, a condition that can lead to depression.
Unfortunately in heterosexual couples the dominant person tends to be
the man and the suffocated or depressed person, the woman (of course there are
exceptions where the opposite is true). If you are a man who is trying to
learn to give up control in relation to women, or a grown-up who is
trying to treat children as equals, this discussion will have given you
an awareness of the way in which your body language is
a manifestation of your physical, though invisible, energy field,
and how this energy field can be intrusive upon other people. If you are
a controlling type of person you need to take responsibility for all of
your physical energy as it extends several feet outside of you, and then
recognize the effect that it has on others. You might discover as you
do this that you have been, effectively, a bull in a china
shop, pushing around, disrupting other people's spaces,
knocking things over, and in general, creating a wake of
disturbance as you go through life, while being completely unaware of it.
You can read a great deal more about this topic in Nancy Henley's book, Body
If you are submissive person you need to
realize that your space is being invaded and that something should be done
about it. Of course this is easier said than done if you are a indeed a submissive
person but nothing short of assertiveness will solve your problem. Ultimately
two people in this situation need to cooperatively explore their personal
space requirements and negotiate an appropriate distance which will satisfy
Here are some other things to be aware of:
if you're large, your very physical presence may be intimidating
to others. You need to carefully evaluate how close you can get to
people, how fast you can move, and what your physical behavior needs to
be in order not to be intrusive. If you are an average-sized person but
you are endowed with high energy and tend to move quickly, you will have a similar problem-not so much
with the size and extension away from your energy field, but with its
intensity. Your voice is an important aspect of your physical energy aura and
projects beyond you. Is your voice loud and powerful? Do you speak
quickly? If so you should be
aware of what it does to people, when you can use our speech fully, and when you
need to subdue it. Men especially are capable of terrifying
children and women with their voices.
If you are fond of touching others, you need to be especially careful,
especially with minors, because touch is definitely an intrusion
into someone else's space. Most people enjoy being touched-but what
kind of touch, how often, and where, are important questions to ask
yourself in order to avoid being intrusive. If you're interested in
further subtleties, you can analyze the kinds of clothing you wear, in
terms of how it affects others with its color. Intense colors like white,
yellow, and red will affect people differently from blue, green, and
For people who are habitually controlled this information can be used
as a hint on how they can take some power with their touch, voices,
clothing, and movements to expand their area of influence in the world in
order to take a fairer share of their space.
Another way in which people control others
is through their conversational behavior. Presumably, the actual purpose
of any conversation is an exchange of points of view. We can disagree,
work toward an agreement, or agree. But very often conversations do not
have that aim at all, and are in fact attempts to control others with
Under those circumstances, if I have a point of view, and see that
yours differs, I will do everything I can to change your point of view to
mine, with you presumably doing the same, so that our
conversation goes from being an exchange of ideas to being a battleground
for thought control. Unfortunately conversations between people are often a
struggle for control, rather than a cooperative exchange of ideas.
Interruption is the basic power play in a conversation. We interrupt
when (a) we think we know what the other person is going to say, or (b)
we don't like what the other person is saying, or (c) can't wait to make
our point. People who interrupt others often feel that they are
expediting and simplifying the conversation. On the other hand,
people who are in the habit of being interrupted feel quite
different about it. Here's a vivid account, by a friend of mine, on
the effect of an interruption:
"Sometimes when I am interrupted in
the middle of a sentence, I feel like a bird shot out of the sky. I
literally feel like I hit the ground with a dull thud, head first, and I
see sparks flying in my brain. My feelings are a combination of rage
and hopelessness. I feel like I want to cry, and that I want to grab the
interrupter by the neck and choke him until he is quiet. I want to give
up. I have to fight tears. I feel drained of energy. The task of
regaining my train of thought and going back to what I was trying to say
seems utterly hopeless. By that time, I have usually forgotten what I
was talking about, and couldn't care less."
opposite of interruption is listening, of course. Listening is a fine and
difficult art. True listening involves attempting to understand not only the
words spoken but how the other person is experiencing the situation. Not
necessarily to agree with it, but to become fully aware of how that other
person sees whatever it is that she is talking about. It is then possible to
respond in a way that is not an attempt to control, but to add our point
of view to the conversation.
Very often women experience things differently from men. The same
differences happen between grown-ups and children, white and black, poor
and rich, and it is a natural outcome of the extraordinarily disparate ways in
which these different groups of people have experienced the world.
Often women's experiences (or grown-ups', or children's, or whites', or
people's of color or of young people's or old people's) are discounted
because they are deemed incomplete, one sided, emotional,
irrelevant, and/or irreverent. Or, their views are considered
"cute," exciting, or childlike. Views that don't fit into the
mainstream of ideas are rarely seen as valid and worthy of being adopted
by "sensible" people.
When in a conversation one disagrees, the first assumption should
be that there is something about what is being said that isn't being
understood. For instance, Mr. and Ms. Smith are discussing the best spot
for their long awaited vacation. Ms Smith wants to go to the mountains.
Mr. Smith fails to hear why Ms. Smith thinks that the mountains are
healthier, cheaper, and more fun. He doesn't stop to try to understand
why she sees it that way. He simply disagrees and tries to push his views
on her. He wants to go to the beach.
He should start out by assuming that
her view has merit and needs to be taken seriously. If nothing that a
woman (if you are a man) or a child (if you are a grown-up) or a person
of color (if you are white) is saying has any merit in your eyes, you can
assume that you are forcing your perspective onto hers and
taking for granted (on a purely sexist or ageist or racist basis)
that you are correct when she is not.
Another way in which it is possible to
dominate someone else in a conversation is to over-agree. Here the
listener shakes his head up and down and makes various noises
of agreement all with the purpose of saying in effect,
"What you are saying is absolutely true-in fact it's perfectly
obvious-and I knew it all the time, so you can skip it. Now here is how I
feel about it."
One area in which I had the opportunity to
give up control was in conversational behavior. I have had the repeated
experienced of becoming the center of a conversation, with everyone looking at
me and apparently interested in what I was saying. I assumed, at those times
that I was being enjoyed by the others. Otherwise, why the rapt attention?
Personally, I felt uncomfortable by the one-sidedness of the dialogue, yet
flattered at the same time. In any case, I felt that I could not
stop talking even if I wanted to. Every time I tried to stop, someone
asked me a question or disagreed with me and I was off and running again.
One time I found myself quietly
listening to another fellow who had taken over a conversation. Leon
seemed pompous, self-satisfied, and, frankly, obnoxious. The more he
talked, the more uncomfortable and annoyed I got. I listened to him in
fascination, silent and unhappy. Suddenly I realized that this was a
familiar event, with me in Leon’s place. He was enjoying his position of
control but he was also being led
into a controlling mode by our passivity.
I realized that if I gave up control behavior, I would likely
discover opportunities to exercise other forms of power. Because
I have given up control in conversations, I have been in a position
to experience a whole set of new possibilities. I have had the
opportunity to listen, empathize, learn non-controlling communication, make
occasional well thought out comments and to help boring,
one-sided conversations become more interesting by involving everyone-not
just a few verbally skillful people.
Giving Up Control Over Children
The area in which giving up control seems most radical and risky
and at the same time most desirable is with children. My children grew up in a
quasy-communal setting in which because one of the guidelines of the community
was that no power plays among the adults were permitted, children also
were largely exempted from being manipulated into doing things that they
would not otherwise do. No attempt was made to force a feeding, sleeping
or toilet-training schedule on them. While everyone was very conscious of
power plays and whether they are used on children, there were a variety
of points of view on the subject. Theoretically, commanding a child,
physically removing it, spanking it, hitting it, or in any way punishing
it is a form of power play. Bruce Carroll, one of the ranch residents,
for instance, had successfully raised a number of children to adulthood
and held the most radical point of view with respect to power plays with
children: he believed that absolutely no power plays should ever be
used with them.
Children will do what is right for them, given the freedom to choose
and circumstances in which the choices can be made without stress or
pressure. Power plays are not necessary to cause or help children to do
what is good for them: they will as a rule, in time, do it on their own
Take, for instance Maria, an eight-year-old who wants to stay up late on
a weekday to watch television. Parents know that a child needs about ten hours
of sleep to be able to function adequately, and most parents would
be inclined to set a bedtime and insist that it be kept. Suppose now
that Maria, who has to get up at 7:00 in the morning, wants to stay up
beyond 9:00 in the evening. What are her parents' choices in this matter?
Should they enforce a 9:00 bedtime by insisting on it and using power
plays such as commanding, yelling, turning off the television, spanking,
or maybe even forcibly undressing the child and putting her to bed if
necessary? The parents in this situation are up against their own faith
in human nature. If we assume that Maria is an intelligent human being capable
of making valid decisions in the affairs that concern her, I would like
her to exercise this capacity and trust her to choose well. As far
as I'm concerned, Maria has the right to stay up as late as
she wants, to get as little sleep as she will, and to be cranky
all the next day if she so chooses.
You may ask, "What if she oversleeps and misses her bus and
therefore has to be either driven to school or even to stay at home the
next day?" Maria's selfishness of the night before might result in
creating a large inconvenience for her parents the morning after.
Fair enough. Suppose that Maria stayed up late and overslept.
Now she wants to stay up late once again. Her parents notice
this and ask her to go to bed.
"Maria, I would like you to go to bed. It's past
"But I want to watch this program, and it ends at
"I don't think that's a good idea, Maria, because last time you stayed up, you overslept, and I had to drive
you to school."
"I won't oversleep this time. I'll
set the alarm."
Mother could now power-play Maria and force
her to go to bed, or she could negotiate reasonable, cooperatively
arrived at conditions.
"Okay, Maria, I still don't think it's a good idea. I
believe you're going to have trouble getting up. But I think
you should do what you think is best for you. However, I'm not going
to try and get you out of bed tomorrow morning or drive you to school; and if
you oversleep I want you to agree to go to bed at 8:30 tomorrow. And if you
are late for school again tomorrow, I am going to be very upset.
"Okay, Mom. Will you help me get ready if I am
"Fine. Enjoy your program. I love
Chances are that Maria will wake up and go to school in time. If
she doesn't she will probably grudgingly agree to go to bed early next evening
rather than take a chance on being too sleepy in the morning. That’s what
most grown-ups do, so why not trust and give her the chance to learn just
like we did? I have noticed that the main effect of this approach is that
our children learn the same things we learned, in about half the time. It
took me twenty-five years to develop the cleanliness and good
study habits my children had by age twelve, and thirty years
to learn the social skills they had by age eighteen. Now that they are in
their twenties and thirties I am convinced that I was right in my approach.
They are definitely upstanding citizens.
This example shows how it is possible to allow Maria to choose what she
wants to do, to allow her to experience the consequences of her choice,
without, at the same time, allowing her to interfere with other people's
well-being. When Maria is given this kind of freedom in a host of
situations, beginning as soon as she is able to make such choices, she
will grow accustomed to making decisions which are based on her own
judgment. Her judgment will eventually include her responsibilities
toward others and their feelings. Children who are obedient and follow
orders become accustomed to doing things as they are told without
understanding why. Children raised under this kind of control program
are mysteriously expected, once they are emancipated, to suddenly be able
to make decisions and choices on their own. The fact is that most
children's upbringing gives them no opportunity to choose, gives them no
opportunity to experience the consequences of their choices, and gives them
no opportunity to make cooperative choices which respect the needs
and feelings of others.
But suppose now that the reason why Maria stays up late at night
has something to do with the fact that she really doesn’t want to go to
school and that she would rather watch television than ready herself for
school the next morning. She may even secretly hope that if she stays
up late she will oversleep and not have to go to school. What are
parents to do-since at this point Maria would not only welcome missing the
bus and perhaps even not being driven to school? This is a more
complicated situation. What are parents to do about the fact that some
children don't like to go to school and that they'll do anything to avoid
it? Let me answer this question with another question. What
interests you more: freedom, or school attendance? Do you want
to bring up children to do things they don't enjoy and which are not
likely to be good for them? If a child does not enjoy school, chances
are that the school is not a good place for the child. Faith in our
children demands that we assume that they will be interested in learning
when learning is interesting, that children want to go to school when
school is a good place for them. It stands to reason that if
school is a nasty, upright, competitive place filled with social
and racial strife, authoritarianism, power plays, and injunctions against
spontaneity, awareness, and intimacy, children might want to stay away
from it. But the law says children have to go to school. So what are
parents to do?
Clearly, the problems now proliferate. Parents who want to raise
children who are independent and powerful may have a great deal more to
do than to avoid power-playing them at home. It is not conducive to
autonomy to force a child to go to a bad school no matter how cooperative
the home situation. As a consequence, parents may have to choose
between not sending children to the school (which means sending them to a
better school which they may not be able to afford, or keeping them out
of school altogether and home schooling them), or putting demands on the
school, organizing, and becoming social activists in behalf of their children
so that school becomes a better place and the child may want to go to
When parents have to work excessively hard
or do not have the means to provide reasonable environments
for their children, when families live in isolated,
competitive units, each fending for its own, each desperately
struggling to eat, sleep, and stay alive from day to day, there is
very little opportunity to create the conditions for cooperation.
If you add to that the presence of drugs which tend to disorganize and bring
chaos into an already unstable situation you have a situation which may
require special measures. This book does not pretend to have solutions for
such special situations.
If you add to that the presence of drugs which tend to disorganize and bring chaos into an already unstable situation you have a situation which may require special measures. This book does not pretend to have solutions for such special situations.
Let us imagine now a home situation that has a certain measure
of ease. The parents are not overworked and underpaid. The schools are
reasonable. There is enough room, food, and leisure, so that cooperation
and childrearing for autonomy can be given a try. In such a situation, the
parents can work cooperatively with the children. Children can be raised
reasonably free of power plays.
Children will generally conform to the wishes of their parents.
They will do this out of a wish to cooperate with them because they love
them, rather than out of a wish to avoid punishment or to obtain rewards.
They will not always do as their parents wish and, at times, they will to
do or not do what they, rather than their parents, want but this will be
accepted and understood by the parents as a reasonable price to pay in he
hope that these children will grow up autonomous and self-sufficient,
rather than dependent, passive, and powerless.
One thing is very clear, however. In a situation of sort, children
will definitely not do things that they experience as painful, obnoxious,
or holding no benefit for them. Under such circumstances, children will
refuse to go to schools, they will refuse to follow oppressive rules,
they will demand to be heard when they speak, they will ask
for everything that they want 100 percent of the time and demand that
their wishes be considered on an equal footing with the grown-ups in the
household. Difficult as this may sound, the parents of such children have
a number of rewards. First of all, they will be living with fully
participating human beings. They will see the results of this in the way
in which children will use their capacities to the fullest extent as
they express their innate wish to cooperate. When these children grow up,
they will be truly self-sufficient and autonomous and much more likely to fend
for themselves and to do a good job of it; they will not tolerate
injustice, oppression, lies, and exploitation. Finally, parents who
choose this childrearing approach will know that their children
are shaping their own destinies and following their
cooperative nature, provided as they are with the freedom to choose and
the tools with which to choose wisely.
Raising children in this manner is a project that cannot be
undertaken in isolation. When everything in the community is decided on the
basis of competitiveness and power plays it is very difficult for a
specific household in that community to operate on a totally different basis.
It is therefore important that people congregate in larger numbers,
teach each other the principle of cooperation, attend PTA meetings and
lobby for change, start alternative schools for their children, if
necessary, and support each other in their struggles to achieve a life
free of control.
What I write here is borne out in my experiences with my three
children, Mimi, Eric and Denali, who are now thirty nine thirty six and twenty
two. For many years now, I have followed the outlined above with
extraordinary success, as anyone who knows them will attest to.
Naturally, the theoretical position that
power plays should never be used with children has its exceptions. For
instance if a baby bites its mother's nipple she has almost no alternative but
to power-play the child in response unless she wants to stop nursing
altogether. One reasonable response might be to scream loudly; this will
scare the child and cause it to not bite. Screaming is a power play, but
it is also a manifestation of the mother's feelings. When done
with intent of stopping the baby from biting the nipple, it is power
play but one which would be hard to argue against.
Children are exposed to dangerous situations, whether it be hot stoves or
electrical wall sockets or busy drug infested streets. There are a few things in the
child's world that the child needs to stay away from-no ifs, buts or
maybes. Once again, scaring the child when it comes close to these
dangerous situations might be the best approach-and it is a power play;
this only proves that every rule has its exceptions. But with respect to
everyday matters such as when and where children sleep, where and when they
eat, and when they get older when and where and how long they go out and
whom (within limits) they associate with, power plays should be avoided and
replaced with the expressions of our opinions, desires, and feelings.
It takes more time to deal with a child without power plays but I
believe that in the long run, children who are power-played take less
effort, less work, and stay dependent on their parents for a shorter
period of time, and become self-sufficient, loving, supportive, and
helpful, eventually contributing their own energy to the family. While
any situation may be more expediently dealt with by a power play, I
believe that we pay dearly for every time we violate a child's rights and
control it. There is no reward greater for a parent than the love of
one's children and there is no better way to guarantee that children will
love us than if we allow them the freedom of their choice while we provide
them with our best advice, nurturing, and candid expression our
wishes and feelings.
When Men Give Up Control
is the system of domination of women by men. It is deeply rooted in both
men and women, who after systematic indoctrination by schools, media, and
parents, often accept that men's role is to control and dominate women.
Giving up sexism is a sub-agenda for men and women of the larger
program of giving up the control mode in general.
True, it isn't always the case that men wield control. Women are
sometimes in the place of power as owners of businesses, inheritors of
their dead husband's or father's power, and as overbearing wives and
mothers. Some women have great power; but, let's be honest about it, they
are still the exception rather than the rule. When women have control
power, it has usually been ceded, inherited from, or allowed by men. The
fact is that the lion's share of the power to control, dominate,
manipulate, destroy, give, and take away is in the hands of men.
The control experience is typically the male experience, even
though some women have recently been allowed to share in it. Patriarchy
rules, men make the decisions, have the power, and hang onto the
privilege. In the lowest rungs of power, where both men and women have
practically none, the hold of men over women seems to relax a bit and
that is because he absents himself-loses interest, becomes disabled, goes to
jail, or dies. Among the poor, very old, and Third World people, women have
a stronger role and place than among the white middle-aged, middle-class,
and rich. But even where a woman's role is stronger and allows her
considerable control over significant issues, such as child-raising and
economic matters, the man has the ability to use his greater physical
strength to establish his ultimate mastery. Nowhere is the fact of male
supremacy more evident than among poor peasants and working people, where both
men and women alike have to struggle daily to survive. And when the day's
work is done, the woman waits on the man and takes care of the
children. She works a full day alongside the man and another
day serving her family.
Michael Korda, who, in my estimation, understood a great deal
about the subject of patriarchy, made it plain that men have all but a
tiny portion of the power in this world and that "every effort will
be made to prevent [women] from having real power." Anyone
who questions this assertion should read his chapter on women in his
book Power, in which, so far as the business world is concerned,
he proves the point overwhelmingly. To be sure the book was written
almost thirty years ago and women have made progress in this area, but the
fact is that male dominance continues unabated, and will for some time to
Power plays-competition-control--patriarchy: all four, are
intimately tied together. It is because of this that, when I speak of
giving up control, male chauvinism becomes an important practical example
with which to work. The way men overpower women-and women's reactions to
this-is central to many people's lives and a source of the day-to-day
difficulties between the sexes. The process of giving up sexism takes
time, patience, a dogged commitment on the part of both the man and the woman.
Women often perceive their
relationship with a man who wants to give up his sexism and become a
practicing feminist as a mixture of enjoyment and hard work. A man who
knows a woman who is willing to walk alongside him while he stumbles and
falls in his struggle to give up control (after repeatedly knocking her down
in the process) is indeed lucky. Such a woman is a gift from the Goddess
and should be appreciated and thanked, generously and often.
Likewise, a man who is willing to
give up his control and to share with women his powerful skills is also
to be appreciated. It is not easy fighting sexism, for women or men; all
those who do deserve praise and recognition. For women, giving up
sexism implies taking power, refusing to go along with the comforts of being
taken care of by men, and relinquishing the fantasy of being under
a strong man's wing. It means planning to learn a number of skills
which have become men's domain and to "go it alone" whether in
opening reluctant jars, learning about cars, being self supported,
or becoming physically strong and agile. It means giving up the
obedient-cute-mother-housewife image in favor of a self-sufficient,
independent, powerful self-image. This can be scary since the world is
inhospitable to independent women-especially if they are feminist,
aggressive, powerful, and not exactly thrilled with men.
For women, giving up sexism has a clear goal: get out from under,
be strong. Men's goals aren't as clear or attractive. Why should any man
willingly abandon the privilege of being a man? Why should he give up his
advantage as a wage earner, his superior strength, his sexual preferences,
his rights in marriage
(to be looked after, laundered and cooked for), his privilege
to have the first and last word? In short, why should he give up the
upper hand in the power to control his relationships? What's in it for
men? Let me give you some reasons:
Would you (I am speaking to men now) like
to live longer, work less hard, feel less burdensome
responsibilities in your life? Giving up control will help you to love
and nurture yourself. It will make you more aware of your health and
teach you how to ask for and accept help to share your burdens.
Would you like to be able to love more
fully and reliably? Giving up control will help you contact your
feelings and teach you how to be a loving person. Would you like
to be able to think more creatively, solve problems more effectively?
Giving up control will teach you less rigid (black-or-white, all-or-nothing)
ways of thinking. It will help bring the creative solutions to your mind.
Would you like to have better friendships (with men as well as women)
and work relationships? Would you like to have more fun? Again, giving up
control will help. Would you like to contribute to a world in which
men no longer make all the basic decisions and in which women share responsibilities
able to influence events and have power? Your individual decision to give up
control over women-to embrace feminism-will help bring about that goal.
If we want the ruling men to give up
control of world resources and money, government, science, healing and
spirituality it is necessary that we, all of us who are their unwitting
followers and servants, reject that system of control which dominates
our lives. And in our individual lives that system is reflected in
sexism and patriarchal hierarchies, not just as practiced by men upon
women but as practiced, it seems, by all of us, men and women, who have
any power over the less powerful.
As women become more powerful and men wish
to relate to them as equals, men don't always make the transition to
feminism very smoothly. Men aren't trained to be equals with women, and
our tendency to be controlling is deeply ingrained in us. So, as we try
to give up active control, we often simply switch into a
more passive but still basically controlling mode of behavior.
Wanting to give up control, they
freeze in their tracks, and they withdraw from the fray. Now they sit on
their energy. This process is rather like sitting on a stiffly coiled
spring and keeping it compressed through great effort. The obvious
outcome is that ultimately we must let go, exhausted, and the coil
will burst and open to its full extension. In real life, a man who
goes into this kind of strategic withdrawal of power behavior
is like a time bomb. Women who relate to men in that phase are
initially 'attracted by their apparent desire to be non-controlling but
find that these men's control needs gradually surface in subtle (or
eventually, crude) power plays.
One obviously bitter woman provided this scenario:
"There are a lot of guys hanging
around these days who are real laid-back and 'groovy' even to the point
of talking a good feminist line. But get close to them and
somehow, sooner or later, they wind up on top; in control,
hanging on, and pushing hard. It's an uncanny, seemingly
irresistible tendency not to be denied. I'll take a 'macho' man any
day. At least you know what he wants and what you are
To be a man in
this situation is like being under the influence of an irresistible
reflex. We watch ourselves respond automatically to situations that push
our control buttons and spoil situation after situation. If you are
in this phase of development, take heart! If you stay with it, it will pass,
and you'll be able to anticipate and eventually give up those
automatically competitive reactions. It's part of the process of change. But
don't stop at that point where you just look good enough to
"pass" as a considerate, respectful, cooperative man. That
alone is hardly an improvement over your old self.
Giving up control doesn't mean giving up. It means establishing an
exquisite balance of equality which requires everyone's involvement;
those who are habitually one-down have to work just as hard as those who
are habitually one up, and constant, ongoing vigilance is needed to keep
the will to control or be controlled at bay.
A very important area in which control manifests itself is in the sexual
relationships between men and women. We know that big business,
government, the military, the media, and all the major institutions of this
country are dominated by men, but we fail to recognize how complete
male domination is in sexual relations. Men dominate in every sphere
of our lives, to an extent that is usually not obvious. Nowhere is this as
hidden as in sexuality even as the illusion that it is women who are in
This illusion is promoted by the fact that, by and large men are much
more eager to have sexual intercourse than women. There are, probably,
times when women may avoid having intercourse with men because this can be an
effective way to control the man. A woman may feel that her
control over the decision to have intercourse is the only power
that she has and she may use her power in this way. It seems to some
men that this is the main reason why women refuse sex. A man who holds to
this point of view has few, if any, chances of endearing himself to a
woman. He will ignore all the other reasons (pregnancy, infection, inept
lovers) for her reluctance and deal with it as if it were a contest of
wills. She will then feel that she is in the hands of a subtle or crude
So yes, women do, by and large, control whether the exchange of
sexual and emotional energy, which men so badly need, will actually take
place, and they do at times use their power to withdraw their favors to
manipulate men. Sometimes women will lead men into the tender trap
and saddle them with responsibility and children by the device of
withholding their sexuality. Men who feel that women hunt them as "meal
tickets" are as justified as women who complain of being hunted as
But every other aspect of sexuality is male dominated. Women can
control sex only by not having it. Once they decide to go along they lose
their position of power unless they withhold sex once again and that is not
always effective since many men are only looking for one
fast score-"Wham-Bam, thank you ma'am," or for a quick ball
game-"Three strikes and you're out." But even when the man’s
approach is respectful and sensitive the sexual trajectory of their
relationship will be the familiar, kiss, kiss, caress, caress, penetrate,
thrust and orgasm hopefully simultaneously. This trajectory is so ingrained in
men’s and women’s minds that men can’t conceive of an alternative and
women can’t figure out how to get what they want.
Relationships Between Men
Men generally hold on to their power through control and competition.
For a man, one of the inevitable consequences of giving up control is
that his relationships with other men will change. The relationships
between men, though they may seem to vary considerably among different
individuals, all seem to have one quality in common. Regardless of
the amount of cordiality and friendliness that may be exchanged among
them, the impervious layer, the rock bottom, the impenetrable barrier seems to
be that men do not touch each other. Sure, men will allow their hands to
make contact with another man's body, especially through clothing, or if
the touch is quick and more like a pat or a hit. Men will squeeze each
other's hands in a handshake, and men will appear to touch each other on
occasion, and some even frequently. But this physical contact
is compared in duration and intensity with the kinds of physical contact
that men pursue and maintain with women, it will be seen that men simply
do not feel comfortable with each other's physical touch. They will
keep a wider gap between themselves and other men than they will
between themselves and women, and they will make actual physical contact
shorter and less frequent; there are large barriers to warmth and
intimacy between men. (Obviously, I am speaking here of heterosexual
One of the exercises which was effective in making men aware of
their sexism developed early in the feminist consciousness movement
consisted of having men reverse roles with women, as I described earlier
in Chapter 12. But, if one wants to understand how sexism affects men's
relationships to other men, then the exercise to do is one in which a
group of men all pretend to be women. Through this exercise, men become
intensely aware of the obstacles in their relationships with other men.
Yet it also becomes clear, as the exercise progresses, that these
obstacles are not based on some inherent emotional lack, but on the
prohibitions and fears that are so universally maintained by men.
What are the benefits of relating to men? Men have qualities that other
men like and which women don't have. Men are different from women.
Perhaps this is due only to their upbringing, their sex-role training-but
it could also be that they are different for more fundamental,
biologically based reasons. Men are usually stronger, harder. Their
interests run along certain lines. Their emotions are channeled in
certain ways. The satisfaction that is felt when relating to a person who
in his total overall response presents a hard, strong surface, steadier,
less vulnerable, easier to lean and rely on is different from
what is experienced when relating to a woman. It is not a better
feeling- just different, and satisfying in its own way.
It is good to relate to one who is
like oneself and who under stands, as no women really can, what it is like to
be a man. This will be true as long as men and women are as different as
they are, for whatever reason. It is difficult for me to paint a picture
of what it is like since the experience is one that creates strong emotions in
me, but I know that men find it profoundly satisfying when they can share
their kinship with men. In a way, we have to take it on faith that
our relationships with each other are worthy of pursuit. It's
a fearful, dark mystery, what we have for each other, yet my heart
leaps with anticipation when I let myself think about it. The development
of brotherhood among men is one of the hidden premises of feminism. I
look forward to a world where men can relate to each other lovingly and
with trust instead of with competitive, coldness and fear.
It might be helpful, at this point, to
share with you the definition of feminism that I accept. To me feminism
is, above all, love of women. It is out of love that I write this
chapter. To some feminism has come to mean nastiness, anger, and hatred
of men. But true love for women must eventually include love of men.
How to Fill the Control Vacuum
For me, writing a book about power seems
a byproduct of a process that started thirty years ago. I was a
Ph.D. in psychology and had written a successful first book, Games
Alcoholics Play. I was involved in public service, working at a free
clinic, running a thriving private practice. I was actively
opposing the war in Vietnam, demonstrating, organizing and teaching. I
felt righteous and just, capable and vigorous. I was, in short, a
counterculture success story: respected, admired and alive. No one could
have convinced me then that I was powerful at the expense of others and
that regarded from a certain perspective, I was a social failure.
True, I was aware of people's anger toward me (not enemies' but my
friends'), all very low-key, but nevertheless very real. But after all, I
would have argued, I was a man of unusual inclinations and ideas that
often bring out the insecurities of people whose own ideas are threatened.
People could have pointed out my occasional but very disruptive outbursts
of temper, but I would have probably dismissed these as my problem, rather the
problem of those who were weak and squeamish.
I secretly knew that I was irrationally wedded to my ideas, that I was
given to falsifying the truth (lying to be precise) and that I seldom felt
love for anyone But had anyone pointed those truths out to me, I probably
would have loosed a barrage of words sufficient to silence my critic and moved
on to a different subject.
It was a woman representing womanhood in general who first brought
to my awareness the subtle, daily facts of the misuse of my power.
"Men oppress women," she said, and to this I handily
agreed-somehow managing to exclude myself from the group of men whom I
saw abusing power. The startling part of the message was, "And you,
Claude, are yourself an oppressive and abusive man." I was shocked
and probably in order to disprove her assertion I became very interested
in the study of sexism and the way in which men take advantage of women.
I loved women rather uncritically, and I was not going to take lightly the
accusation--which I suspected to be untrue--that I was an
oppressive male. I was going to investigate this matter of male
oppression and prove to myself and others that I was above power abuse.
Once I had demonstrated that, I could then set the matter aside: a
credentialed, liberated man, above suspicion.
Becoming interested in this topic made me aware of the major tool
of power abuse between human beings, the power play. It became clear that
all human injustice could be easily analyzed in terms of transactional
sequences that I called power plays. Sexism was one area in which
injustice became very clear to me. Men discounted women, interrupted them
in the middle of their sentences, dominated them
physically, manipulated them with verbal and mental tricks. I
saw, more and more, to my dismay, how I myself was involved in every one
of those activities. The plot thickened.
I realized that I was in fact a pain in the neck not only to some
women, but to other people as well. As a middle-aged person, I abused my
power with children and older people. I was racist, I was unfair
to fat people, short people. I realized that as a well-to-do
professional, I oppressed, with my language and demeanor, people who had
a working-class background. I began to suspect that I, a person proud to
be a humanist, nevertheless had a very deep-seated and complicated
inclination to use my power in ways that were not necessarily beneficial
to others, and ultimately not even beneficial to myself. I saw
that being powerful is one thing, and how we use power is another. I soon
saw, for the first time, through the urgings of others, that I was a
privileged male, who was further privileged to be white, and further
privileged to be educated, and further privileged to be in my middle age,
and further privileged to be in a couple with a powerful woman. I
also saw that all of the power I had by virtue of these
privileges created responsibility, and that I was failing to act
responsibly much oftener than I would have liked to admit.
I realized that my efforts at self-vindication were pointless. Power
abuse was everywhere. No one was free of power abuse or sexism-no man and
no woman. The point I realized, wasn't to prove myself innocent of
sexism, but to understand it, find it in myself and others, and struggle
against it. It was a lifetime job for myself and all the others who
felt the same way.
It has been a long, arduous, joyful, at times extremely painful
and bitter path. I have learned a great deal, much of it from men, most
of it from women, and also from my children and old folks of my
acquaintance. A great deal more remains to be learned. I have come to
understand power to a sophisticated enough degree to write a
book about it. I can offer myself as an example of a person who
is familiar with power abuses, has used them, has had them used on
himself, and has become conscious of how they harm other people, has
relinquished a large number of them, and intends to continue to do
so-probably for the rest of his life.
Every power abuse, except for a few bloody, violent ones,
described in this book, has been part of my behavior. I interrupted,
corrected, overrode, ignored, judged, evaluated, insulted, attacked,
patronized, discounted, and lied to people. I justified this by assuming
that they needed my gentle, authoritative, sometimes devious, parental
attitude, in order to improve their lives. Luckily, I had enough talent
and charm going for myself so that they tolerated me and when I began
relinquishing my power abuses, they came after me with gusto. People began to
complain about my tone, my superior
attitude, my curt stiffness, my dogmatic pronouncements. They
challenged my ideas, disagreed with me openly. They were much more often than
not correct in their
criticism, and I listened. The machine could
not be stopped.
I opened myself up to these attacks and their challenge of my power
abuses became an accepted part of my life, which not only improved the
effectiveness as a therapist but all my relationships, as I learned one
valuable lesson after another. I stopped wearing ties and uncomfortable
suits, I relaxed and smiled more, took more vacations. With my clients I
failed to raise my fees as everyone else raised them, and noticed that
they actually seemed to love me; that they were concerned with my
welfare, and at the same time, claimed that I was a great therapist.
To my great surprise, I seemed to gain by giving up my power
abuses, whether in my work, in my love relationships, or in my
relationships with friends, strangers, or even with my enemies. My
healing powers actually improved as the upright, controlling male power
attitudes learned in my training were given up, one by one, and as I
learned to communicate, feel and think in new ways. Finally, I felt
in love in a way I never experienced before; fully, with complete
commitment, without reservations, control set aside, as my heart drank
thirstily from Love's magic waters.
Putting Your Heart Back on Your Sleeve
In the previous chapter, I discussed the
process whereby people who might be so inclined can give up control
power in their lives. Even for those who consider such a giving
up as essential, regardless of the consequences, the question may
still come up: "Now that I've given up control, is there anything
left of me?" (This is a valid question. In fact, as a people give
up, one after another, aspects of their controlling behavior they may find
that they feel weak, small, worthless, and, in general, powerless; a
feeling which can cause a great deal of alarm. This is especially true of
men, who are trained to feel good only when they are in control.)
We may not want to dominate other living beings, but we also don't
want to be without any power whatsoever.
For some, the feeling of being small and powerless actually brings
about some relief. Relief from responsibility, from guilt when we don't
discharge our responsibilities, relief from having to give an impression of
being powerful, in control, and successful at all times. But relief is
temporary. In time, when we get used to the benefits of giving
up power, the question really does come: "If not Control power,
then what is there?"
The answer is that what else there is, is limitless, really. The
fact that people, men especially, have focused on control has also blinded
them to other forms of power—The Other Side of Power.
The Other Side of Power
I will now describe seven sources of non-abusive power. Perhaps surprisingly one of them is control, which is a valuable source if not used abusively or out of context with the other six. Students of Eastern religions will recognize the origin of these ideas in the ancient theory of the chakras of Kundalini yoga: Earth, Sex, Power, Heart, Throat, Third Eye, and Cosmos.
I call these seven power sources Balance, Passion, Control, Love, Communication, Information, and Transcendence.
No one of these powers should be valued over another. Instead, they should be used together, for each has its own unique capacity to bring about change. When you use them in combination, you will find that this rainbow of options is much more powerful than the blunt, often brutal forms of control power that dominate so many of us.
Insert Figure "Seven Sources"
BALANCE. Balance or grounding, as it is also called, is the capacity to be rooted and comfortable while standing, climbing, walking, or running.
When you have a well-developed capacity for balance, you "know where you stand." Because you know where you stand, you will not be easily pushed out of your physical or personal position. Your body will be firmly planted, and your mind will be steady.
As with all the power sources, you should try to reach a "happy medium" in regard to balance. If you are deficient in balance, you will be too obedient, easily frightened, and timid. But if you overdevelop balance, you will be stubborn, stony, dense, unmovable, and dull.
Balance is a particularly valuable power source for women. Patriarchy discourages women from attaining a strong sense of physical balance. Women's fashions designed to please men--tight clothes, miniskirts, high heels--interfere with physical stability. So do the requirements of modesty--limited and careful motion--for women of "breeding."
Men, on the other hand, are free to be as physically comfortable as they desire, wear roomy clothing and shoes, and have minimal requirements for grooming and modesty.
In the United States, as women move slowly toward equal status with men, they are casting aside many of the dictates of dress and grooming that have been required for them. As a result, they are feeling more powerful--more rooted, grounded, and balanced.
PASSION: The power of passion can invigorate you like nothing else can. Passion can create or destroy. Passion brings opposites together, forces confrontation and change.
In the absence of sexual passion, there would be no Romeo and Juliet, few marriages, no unrequited love. But passion is not only sexual. It also fuels missionary zeal, quixotic quests, and revolution.
If your passion is underdeveloped, you will be tepid, boring, and gutless. If your passion boils over, you will explode with unbridled energy.
CONTROL: Control has been badly used but it is an essential form of power. Control allows you to manipulate your environment and the objects, machines, animals, and people in it.
Such control, which is both physical and psychological, also gives you power over yourself. Control is especially important when, in the form of self-discipline, it lets you regulate your other powers, such as passion, information, communication, and, very importantly, your emotions. This control is vital when events around you run amok and threaten your survival. Emotional Literacy is partially a matter of controlling emotions; expressing them or holding them back for a powerful personal approach.
If you lack in control power, you can be victimized by your inner turmoil and become addicted, depressed, sleepless, and slothful. Or you may be victimized by the outer world, becoming unemployed, homeless, battered, persecuted, mentally ill, or sickened by pollution. You will be seen as lacking discipline, unable to control what you feel, say, and do, and what you put in your mouth, up your nose, or into your veins. On the opposite end of the spectrum when obsessed by control you become preoccupied with absolute control of every situation and soul.
LOVE: Everyone wants to love and to be loved, knowing how good it feels when it happens. But few people look beyond love's obvious pleasures to see its power. Fewer yet fully develop that power.
Love is more than just Valentine's Day cards, the thrill that you get when you see or touch your beloved, or the warm hug of a mother’s child. Love has the power to bind people together, enabling them to work tirelessly side by side on the hardest tasks, instilling hope that can propel them out of the most hellish situations; floods, famines, wars, plane wrecks.
If your power
of love is underdeveloped, you will be cold, lacking in warmth or empathy for
other people, unable to nurture or to be nurtured, unable even to love
yourself. If this power is overdeveloped, you will be a habitual Rescuer,
driven to excessive sacrifices for others while neglecting yourself.
Love and Control are often confused
with each other. People whose power is invested in control
characteristically are lacking in the capacity to love. Their feelings
about others have their origins in control rather than love issues.
Jealousy is a case in point.
Many people believe that jealousy is an
emotion associated with love and that being jealous is an indication of
how much a person loves another. The fact that a person wants another does not necessarily mean that
there is any love involved. People often want others in the same way they
want a car, a house, or any other kind of property. Yet, the
confusion is real and the differences are difficult to ascertain. Feelings of
Love and Control can be mixed together so that any one object or person
can bring out both in someone, so that it isn't clear just what is going on.
It is in the case of jealousy, when the object or person is taken
away from us, that we sometimes get a very clear-cut basis for
When jealousy has to do with possessiveness-the desire to dominate
the other person's movements-it is connected to primitive, territorial
possessive instincts that are applied to objects as well as people. The desire
that some people have to define their private property and to
exercise controls over it manifest itself in this form of jealousy.
In feeling this kind of jealousy, we don't care about the circumstances
or details or consider the other person's emotional needs. We simply are
unwilling and incapable of accepting the loss of control over an object.
We may not even love or care about that person. We may be
ourselves involved with second, third, and fourth lovers, but we regard
that person as our property and, just as I wouldn't accept a stranger's
driving away in my truck, we are unable to accept our partners' freedom
and right to their own choices. Control jealousy has nothing to do with
Love, though it is often mistaken for it.
If there was such a thing as pure Love, it
would completely exclude Control. The ultimate reward for giving up Control is
the rediscovery of Love.
Jealousy is not always based on control.
It can also be the result of a stroke deficit and imbalance. When one of the
members of a couple withholds strokes from his or her partner and gives them
to another person the jealousy felt is far more legitimate and can’t be
shaken unless the imbalance is corrected.
When love is at the center of the seven sources of the other side of power a loving attitude coordinates the application of the other six so that it will empower both its owner and those around her or him.
COMMUNICATION: The power of communication depends on the capacity to reproduce one’s thoughts and feelings in others. Two operations are involved: sending and receiving, speaking and listening. You need two-way communication to transmit knowledge, to solve problems with others, to build satisfying relationships.
If you are lacking in communication power, you will be unable to learn much or to enjoy people. If you stress communication too much, you could become a compulsive, careless talker, paying too little attention to what you are saying or its effect on others.
All the sources of power work with each other. A very powerful combination of powers, used by great teachers is made of communication, information, and love. Their communication is inspired by the love of truth and the love of people. They do not browbeat or use control to persuade. Instead they explain, and try to understand if they are not understood; their students are free to compare what they are learning with what they already know, thus forming their own well grounded opinions.
INFORMATION: The power of information is that it reduces your uncertainty. When you have information, you can anticipate events and you can make things happen or prevent them from happening. If you are lacking the power of information, you suffer from ignorance. If this power is overdeveloped, you become hyper-intellectual and lacking heart.
Information comes in four forms: science, intuition, history and vision.
Science gathers facts methodically, by taking a careful look at things and noting how they work. Science is like a camera taking focused and sharp pictures of reality. It is a powerful source of certainty.
Intuition grasps the flow of things. It produces "educated guesses" about the way things are. Intuition is fuzzy, not exact like science, but it is a powerful guide toward what is probably true. Because of this, intuition is often vital in the early stages of important scientific discoveries. Intuition and its extension empathy is an especially powerful aspect of the Other Side of Power so let me elaborate.
Intuition is our capacity to know beyond
what our senses tell us. We know the world through our eyes and ears,
touch and smell. But we have what is called a "sixth
sense"-intuition-through which knowledge about the world is
available as well. Intuition-the capacity of knowing without
identifiable information is often underdeveloped in people though it is
available to all. Without it we can't really know how other people feel.
Without intuition, mutuality is most difficult and enduring love
impossible. Intuition is particularly underdeveloped in people who pride
themselves on being rational and who want to know what they know based on
discrete observable facts. The vague, unformed, inexplicable way in which
intuition makes itself manifest is not attended to by most men,
who often think of it as a form of feminine irrationality. The
fact is, however, that intuition combined with reason gives a person
access to expanded knowledge, which is a great improvement over reason (or
In A Separate Reality, Carlos Castaneda quite
rationally argues against Don Juan's claim that it is possible to
avoid dangerous situations, really:
"It is not possible to live
strategically all the time. Imagine that someone is waiting for you with
a powerful rifle with a telescopic sight: he could spot you
accurately five hundred yards away. What would you do?"
Don Juan looked at me with an air of
disbelief and then broke into laughter.
"What would you do?" I urged
"If someone is waiting for me with a
rifle with a telescopic sight?" he said, obviously mocking me.
"If someone is hiding out of sight,
waiting for you. You won't have a chance. You can't stop
"No, I can't. But I still don't
understand your point."
"My point is that all your strategy
cannot be of any help in a situation like that."
"Oh, but it can. If someone is
waiting for me with a powerful rifle with a telescopic sight, I simply
will not come around."
development of intuition is effectively pursued through the validation of
paranoia. The reason for this is that paranoia is the result of the
suppression of intuition. In The Politics of the Family, R. D.
Laing points out that people's experiences of the world are continually
being invalidated and forcibly replaced by the "official"
view of events. He speaks of a woman whose experience is that, though she
is officially married (with a certificate and a wedding ceremony
to prove the fact), her "husband" is in fact not married to
her at all; his behavior belies any marital agreement. He shows no
love, respect, or interest in her. When she claims that he is not her
husband, she is whisked to a psychiatrist; her experience (he is not her
husband) is labeled insane and invalidated.
Ironically, invalidation, when it takes an
extreme form, sometimes turns people into mental invalids gone mad with
what the psychiatric establishment calls paranoid schizophrenia. When we
notice what goes on with other people, and these perceptions
are denied or discounted, we are basically squelching our intuitive
powers. When the unpleasant facts of life are denied, the result (for
most of us who don't go mad) is that we develop the kinds of nagging and
repetitive suspicions and misgivings that are our common, garden-variety,
everyday paranoid fantasies.
“Paranoia is heightened awareness.”
This statement, which I first made in 1969 in the Radical Psychiatry
Manifesto, was at the time seen as an outrageous notion even by myself.
It was designed to reassure myself and others in the antiwar movement that our paranoia about Nixon, the FBI, and the
CIA were valid. Today we all know that those suspicions were more than valid;
in fact, what was really going on was far worse than some of us ever
imagined and probably remains undiscovered. Recent partial disclosures
from the FBI files, as an example, corroborate that Edgar Hoover had
undercover agents infiltrating and agitating virtually every women’s
consciousness raising group in the country at the time.
Paranoia is the last vestige of our
intuition, denied. Some of us have been so browbeaten by the scientific
way of thinking and have taken so seriously the denials of all
of what we experience intuitively, that we do not even have any
paranoia left. There are two kinds of truly insane people: those who think
everyone is after them, and those who think no one is after them. Both of
these are relatively rare most of us harbor occasional notions of
persecution which we largely discount. It is to this last remaining glimmer of
our lost intuition that we need to attach ourselves; it will be the
touchstone, the first building step of our intuitive powers.
To repeat, knowledge has four sources,
science intuition, history and vision.
Historical knowledge comes from knowledge
of past events, either through personal experience or through the study of
history. Historical perspective can be a powerful tool to help you forecast
Vision is the ability to see what lies
ahead directly, through dreams and visions. We all have visions of the future
but it takes great self-confidence to be a visionary. Vision when recognized
is a highly valued for of information.
Ordinarily, our society considers science
the only valid source of knowledge; history is for old people, intuition for
women, and vision for lunatics. Still, each of these forms of information has
validity and can add to your charisma.
Information has been badly misused over
the ages. It has been used in the service of control, to wage war, to seize
land, and to impose political and religious views. Today, in the Information
Age, the misuse of information comes in the form of disinformation, false
advertising, negative political ads and other forms of modem propaganda. They
are used to manipulate millions of people through television and other mass
media and to persuade people to live certain life styles and buy the products
that go with them.
Information in the service of love would
be starkly different. It would be used to build people's power; their health
through medical and psychological knowledge, their wisdom through education,
their relationships through emotional literacy.
viewed as a source of power, Transcendence is the power of equanimity, of
letting events take their course without getting upset or letting your ego get
involved. It lets you find calm and see clearly, in the midst, even, of
earthshaking events. You find transcendence by realizing how insignificant you
are in the universe-how brief life is before you return to cosmic dust, how
ephemeral your successes and failures, how relatively unimportant your pains
and joys. Whatever your situation may be, you can deal with it when you see it
as a speck in the immensity of time and space. With this understanding, there
is no fear of the future or even death because one’s existence cannot be
disrupted by ordinary events. The power of transcendence gives one hope and
faith that there is a meaning to life even if one's limited intelligence can't
grasp it. With it we can "rise above" a particular situation and
trust and feel our power in spite of material conditions.
If your capacity for transcendence is
underdeveloped, you will see yourself at the very center of things and cling
desperately to your beliefs and desires, aversions and cravings, successes and
failures, no matter the cost. You will fail to see the effect that you have on
other human beings and the environment, because all that matters to you, is
you. On the other hand if transcendence becomes an overused method of coping,
you will become detached from earthly matters, so that you will "float
away" oblivious of events around you, unwilling and unable to touch the
Up Control Adds Life
Giving up Control affects the whole
person, psychologically as well as physically. The state of body and
mind accompanying fixation on control power is one of tension. The
person has to be constantly vigilant not to lose control over him or
others and generally assumes a great deal of responsibility for far too
many things. The concentration on specific issues of control will
manifest itself in an overall disconnection from bodily feelings and
sensations. The constant stress due to the vigilance that control requires
will make it literally impossible to notice what she is experiencing
internally. She will neglect the signals of impending disease, of
overexertion, of chronic fatigue, of malnutrition, whether it be from eating
too much, or too little. Stress will blank out all the subtle internal
cues coming from her body; it will make her unaware of both the pleasures
and the pain that she is feeling throughout her life. Giving up control
brings about an intensification of one's awareness of the internal
processes of the body. As a person gives up control, he is likely to
become more interested in what he eats, how he feels, whether he is doing
an inadequate amount of exercise, and whether he is holding
a painful amount of tension anywhere in his body.
A whole new set of concerns will develop related to his physical
integrity. His diet, sleeping, and exercise habits are likely to change and
readjust to more healthy patterns. In turn, this will affect how he
relates to other people. People who are in control tend to avoid
situations in which they experience feelings of powerlessness, loss,
hurt, impotent anger, jealousy, and in general all of the
feelings which accompany situations in which one is one-down and not
When I began to give up control, I felt, for the first time in my
life, jealousy of an incredibly intense sort (I had thought I was not
jealous), loneliness, incapacity to "manage" my feelings, and the
rage that controlling people feel when they can't get what they want from
another person. I experienced all of these in connection with a
relationship that did not go in the direction in which I wanted it to go,
an unusual experience for me until that time. I went through
a prolonged period of unpleasant feelings of inferiority. The shoe was,
as it were, on the other foot, and I confronted experiences that I had
never allowed myself to have before, because I had always kept control of
myself in relationships.
This was an important
aspect of learning empathy. Right alongside the negative emotions that I
brought upon myself by giving up control, there was a set of positive
feelings that were also new to me. I became more loving, more capable of
communicating with people, softer, more compassionate, more thoughtful
and meditative-a more pleasant and pleasurable human being. At the
same time, my attachment to material things diminished, and my life
was less dominated and driven by sexual considerations as well. I noticed
an increased amount of affection and loving feelings coming to me from other
people wherever I went, and a capacity to respond to similar
feelings of my own.
Giving up Control and embarking into the Other Side of Power is equivalent to joining the human race. As we do, we discover that we are not alone, that there are countless others, wherever we go, who are themselves intensely involved in the race for the survival of our humanness. We need only lift our heads to see somebody always within reach whose sparkle will meet our eye to affirm our commonality as human beings.
here for Coda and Bibliography