We learn a lot about a person by the way they use power.
We all have power, some of which we may assume falsely; that which others give us. Then there is the legitimate power we are given; that for which we are responsible and accountable for. It may be the greatest test of life: are we seen and known as trustworthy in the discharge of the powers entrusted to us?
There is a system of thought regarding the use of power, proposed by Rollo May that helps us organise our rationale of whether power is used for good or evil.
Of these powers, the best is integrative and the worst is exploitative. Between these two poles there is nutrient power, competitive power and manipulative power.
The best use of power is integrative—where we use power to serve others in uniquely respectful ways. People are safe under this inspiring use of power. They have safe basis for their trust and faith in those who execute power for the good of all.
The next best power is nutrient power—where we expect there is inequality and the person with the power compensates by ensuring growth opportunities for the other abound. A good mentor uses this sort of influence.
The use of competitive power assumes there is equality, but that is not always the case. Indeed, there may be an ebbing and flowing of power, but where competitive structures flow freely there may be little cohesion between ‘sides’ and even less harmony within either side.
The more overtly destructive powers are those of the manipulative and exploitative types. Manipulative power is covert and may come disguised in friendlier ways than is purposed. Exploitative power is overt and is the type of power that defies the entire world looking on. Yet abuse and neglect are rooted in both manipulative and exploitative powers. These are inherently evil powers that we ought always to be on the lookout for.
Committing to Integrative and Nutrient Powers
There is so much to be said for these inspiring bases of power.
Existing under such structures implies safety, security, learning and enjoyment—life.
Where we have power we are called to discern when we should be integrative—to be inclusive in sharing the power—and when we should use nutrient power—when to teach, instruct, mentor and coach.
Using these two powers is not about us; we have put our own selfish desires to the side.
What to do About Manipulative and Exploitative Powers
There is a good case, here, for reporting. All good systems and structures have reporting inbuilt. Mature reporting systems allow for complete disclosure in safety, but they also put the onus on truth, so people can’t be reported and treated punitively without cause.
We are all responsible for flushing out people and power bases that misuse, abuse or neglect power.
Power is not necessarily evil. Many use power in good ways; where there is an integrating of the embodiment of life and where learning is facilitated. We need to be watchful, however, for manipulative and exploitative uses of power. When power is given it is given for God’s purposes and for the extension of God’s Kingdom.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.