Power is the ability to do, to act, to have an effect, to influence life. This is power-to—the most fundamental form of power, the power to accomplish things. Power-to involves freedom; they are linked at the hip. Power-to breaks down into a number of other types of power.
Power-over —the form of power most people think of—the ability to control, determine, dominate, destroy, or unduly influence someone or something. We apply power-over in many parts of our individual and collective lives, from controlling cars and hammers to building and bombing skyscrapers to managing amber waves of grain and kids at the dinner table. In society power-over means the ability to control social relations, resources and activities, to dominate opponents, to garner greater privileges, to win in political and economic battlegrounds. People and groups with superior weapons, knowledge of scientific public relations, tons of money, authority to imprison people, and/or ownership of mass media have an abundance of power-over. Even individual qualities like intelligence, creativity, sexuality, and personality can provide power-over in social situations. Power-over requires special handling in order to be non-toxic in a democracy .
Power-with—the power of collaboration and synergy. Working together—especially when we use our differences well—makes each of us more powerful. All of us together know more and can do more than any of us individually. Working together we can usually serve our self-interest better than if we fight for what we want against the self-interest of others.
Power-from-within—the power of our capacities, passions, presence, integrity, personality, connections—the power of who we are. Power-from-within arises from personal qualities that contribute to our ability to shape what happens the world, as long as we appreciate, nurture and use them. All of them can be enhanced in groups and cultures that respect and exercise them in their members. Furthermore, groups themselves have collective capacities—including collective experience, intelligence and resources greater than the sum of the individual members—that they can tap as power-from-within at a group level. This becomes:
Power-from-among—the power and wisdom that arises from interactions among a group’s members. This power and wisdom does not come from the individuals themselves so much as from their collective identity and interactions, from a kind of group energy or intelligence that shows up because these people are together and their very presence together calls forth certain ideas or behaviors that would not have come forth otherwise—as long as their culture and interactions support that happening. This happens best when there is synergy between the collective life of the group and the individual lives of its members. The group enhances the individuals’ thinking, feeling, and competence, and the individuals enhance the functionality and creativity of the group.
Relationships between different forms of powerEdit
These forms of power do not exist in isolation. They often show up together, challenging or complementing each other. For example, in political and economic life, groups use power-with among themselves in order to exercise power-over their oppoinents. More generally, when we can't agree on something, we resort to power-over strategies—but when we can agree, we resort to power-with approaches. Significantly, power-with strategies—especially quality conversations—are increasingly being used to expand the territory of what we can agree on.
We see interesting connections between power-with and power-from-within in the phenomenon of "group flow". In sports teams and jazz ensembles who are “in the groove,” power-with and power-from-within merge into an almost aesthetic surge of power-to. Such group flow is quite exciting to watch and even more thrilling to be part of. People “lose themselves” in the group—not by becoming smaller or less themselves, but by expanding to embrace more of the group’s interactive power within their own capacities and responses. The distinction between self and group becomes meaningless because both are subsumed in this higher form of power and intelligence that is thoroughly dependent on all of them and their in-tune interactions. In flow, a group's power transforms into power-from-among.
The last three forms of power above can manifest in certain political activity as an experience of "We the People"—a palpable sense of collective agency that is mythically in charge of a democracy. People who feel this together know they have what is needed to make politics and government work. They’ve witnessed and been part of a new level of citizenship and a new level of power, freedom, and responsibility they had not realized before. They can feel how this We the People identity is a force to be reckoned with, and how it could generate true public wisdom, empowered public wisdom.