power as energy

by Bonnie Benham, with Andrea Olsen and Sarah Springer

In the final hour of our workshop with Mary Brydon-Miller that explored systems of power and privilege our group formed around the concept of power as energy.

swirls by Anders LjungbergQuestion: How can we see power as energy moving through a system rather than a force that dominates a system?

We discussed the benefits to an organization when power might be seen as energy. It might create a sense of shared power rather than hierarchical power. In order for this to happen, we thought that the power within an organization (in all its forms and in all its domains) could be documented by “developing a landscape” or a visual of where, with whom and when power resides. This would take a shared language about power, the opportunity to reflect and be mindful of ourselves while feeling powerful or powerless, and safe conditions to explore power dynamics within the organization.

Questions to ask the organization:

  • Where is there resistance (or blockages to the power energy)?
  • What language do we use about power so that people feel safe expressing their relationship with it?
  • How do we create a safe space for talking about power?
  • How do we inspire reflective practice and mindfulness in our organization, especially when they feel that they don’t have the time?

Risks to answering this question:

  • Appearing indulgent or superficial
  • Polarizing people who do not feel comfortable or safe talking about power
  • Not addressing invisible sources of power

Strategies for addressing the question:

  • Using brief mindfulness or status reports as reflective or mindfulness practice
    • One word status report
    • Asking questions such as “What types of thinking or ways of being are we _________ today?”
  • Using scientific research to support the benefits of mindfulness, addressing power, etc.
  • Bringing in an expert to talk to the organization about power dynamics
    • Questions to ask: What don’t we know? What needs to be unlearned? etc

Photo credit:  Swirl by Flickr user Anders Ljungberg via Creative Commons

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