My body feels tired and sore, I am aware of a strong feeling of hopelessness about the world we co-exist in. The hierarchical, power thirsty systems that are ingrained in our DNA and drenched in our visceral realities sometimes look like endless black holes. I have a sickening body reaction when I notice the behaviours of dehumanising self or others. It is time we started to notice and understand the toxicity of Power differential. “I am right, you are wrong” “My beliefs are truths and you need to look at yourself” are classic scripts that run in our system that creates the rifts, dehumanises and closes all channels of communication. It creates power structures, where A is higher than B. Where B is supposed to strive to become A and is never satisfied with being B. A on the contrary has to continue to maintain its position. Both are chained into the system, and both are constantly involved in power struggle. This struggle shows up in our families, societies and between countries. Our world is constantly engaged in struggles of power all the time, causing domestic violence, social injustice and war. However I don’t think we need to go that far, even if we observe interactions between our fellow human beings, we will notice the power differential. Systems are designed for the more powerful to grow and gain, while the less powerful keep the struggle on until someone in power gives them a hand. Hence everyone runs behind power based on who has more information power, decision making power, Financial power, network power ( who knows who?) etc.
Definition of an Individual’s Power:
Individual Power can be defined as an individual’s ability and freedom to believe in his/her own resourcefulness and wholeness as a human being. To have freedom in creating an identity, which an individual wishes to create.
Factors impacting individual power:
One of the major factor is individual’s own belief and relationship with Power. This belief is nurtured by prior conditioning of where the individual is coming from and how has this individual being impacted by power. Other factors that influence are the spaces that the individual co-exists in and how these spaces either allow individual power or oppress it.
Power by itself is not toxic, it is quite energizing when we can stand in our power. But taking away someone’s power or giving away our power can lead to toxicity in relating with one another. For example; Gopal is Tim’s boss, in his organisation he is more powerful than Tim. He makes most decisions, including when can Tim go on a holiday. Tim on the other hand believes that this is the way the system works and that he has no power. So Tim continues to behave and take instructions from Gopal. Tim is frustrated as he senses oppression but sometimes may not be aware that this is oppression, he lives his life as a powerless cynic. Even though it may look like Gopal has a wonderful life, it is far from his experience. Gopal experiences more pressure to maintain his position of power. He can’t take risks and is constantly under anxiety, he feels hatred towards Tim and his inability to stand in his power and share the burden that Gopal carries on his shoulder. However it is interesting to note that both Tim and Gopal have become comfortable in their relationship with power and questioning it is useless activity for them. Thus this relationship continues to feed power toxicity drenched in hopelessness and can create internal violence, which is equivalent to oppression of a poorer nation by a more advanced one. The only difference is that one is oppressed internally and not visible, whereas the other is more in the face. We can easily dismiss smaller scales of visceral oppression present in the system and hide it under the umbrella of tolerance, often calling people who react to it as imbalanced or too sensitive for the system. We design psychometric tools to measure psychological deviations or reactions that oppressed people may have and then train them to fit into the system. I believe that more we hide power toxicity that is present in traces, the more it grows.
I have here tried to put down a few questions, which can help us become aware of power toxicity in and around us:
1. You exercise your authority to make sure that your employees speaks only when you feel it is necessary and in a manner that is appropriate
2. You make sure that everyone and all tasks are completed on time and targets achieved, even if it means that employees sacrifice their personal time
3. You leave no space for unnecessary personal excuses
4. There is no time for discussions and feedback for self
5. You always make sure that you are in power over the employee
6. You lose your temper when an employee can’t perform as per your expectations
7. You have Freedom of speech
8. You feel the freedom to be sad, joyous, angry, fearful and are able to name it.
9. Is there Freedom to be, without being constantly reprimanded or corrected?
10. Feedback in your system nurtures
11. Are you being subjected to depreciating comments by boss in humor or otherwise?
12. Are you aware of gas lighting, thus creating psychopathological confusion in you?
13. there a sense of smallness experienced by you?
Answering some of these questions helps us find where power toxicity exists.
Oppression that continues can create power toxicity that impacts mind and body and can have psychopathological ramifications in individuals. Over time it creates mutation in the system to heighten tolerance of oppression, thus impacting life choices of individuals. It saps individuals of their vitality as they start believing that system cannot be changed and there is a greater force holding the system. Whereas in reality the power differential system is held deep in our psyche. It’s code is held in the oppression that we impose on ourselves, thus feeding into an oppressive system. We are scared of naming the oppression to the oppressor as there is deep fear of being ostracised from the system. The system is designed to make us feel alone in the oppression, whereas the whole system experiences oppression without awareness. When we oppress parts of ourselves we also do not allow others to express those parts thus creating a pattern of oppression outside from inside. We oppress reactive and sensitive parts of ourselves, which yearn for voice and choice, but our current comfort zone keeps us in denial. So we keep increasing the levels of power toxicity within ourselves as we continue to remain and construct systems of oppression.
Power with awareness of equity of self and others, is pure power. This power comes from a deep space of respect for self and others irrespective of their caste, creed, race, gender, country, culture or religion. It comes from knowing that each human being is equal and everybody’s power is connected. However this is easier said than applied. If we practice to develop our sensitivity to Power toxicity and are able to accept it and name it, I think that is where the edge of systemic transformation exists. Ripples of power toxicity that begin from self have engulfed our world in toxic power dynamics that need observation, attention and transformation.