Becoming aware, and recognizing that we are aware, is one of the keys to internal power. Living in every one of us is the quest for well-being that propels us forward. People who consciously understand that are alert to the workings of their own minds and hearts. They are better able to protect themselves from the menaces and manipulations of this world. People with internal power also recognize that ignorance and self-importance are a living dynamics that can take hold at any time. They continually work toward self-liberation through continually expanding their awareness so small-mindedness and restrictive beliefs are less able to find a home in their psyche. I believe this is a reliable pathway to empowerment. When you know yourself, you can think more clearly, and that is the first form of external action. When you realize this in a social sense, you begin to connect with others who share a similar sense of awareness.
In order to survive, humans need to work cooperatively in groups. We set up systems according to the resources and technology available to the group. The point of institutions is to care for the needs of the group. Those needs are for safety, being well fed, housed and secure. Historically, and theoretically, people choose the most competent persons to lead their groups. For those wielding power to be successful, the acceptance (or acquiescence to the abuse of power) is required. The most pervasive and the most difficult to eliminate is power that has become institutionalized.
Institutional power is how societies and other organizations with global reach project themselves in the world. Institutions are based on sources of power that include monetary wealth, natural resources like oil, natural gas, minerals, agriculture, location, etc. It also includes the support of its constituency, size of the political unit, quality of leadership and vision, chain-of-command, and efficiency. The forms that the power of institutions takes are somewhat different than that of the individuals that comprise them. Institutions attract people with different desires for power, often motivated altruistically. As the institutions acquire more power, people with different motives are drawn to them.
The distribution of power provides the mechanism on the effectiveness of a society to meet its needs. The application of power is necessary for a smooth running society. The important thing is that it determines whether a society functions effectively or not. Effective use of power leads to the well-being of the individuals in a society. If a society is unable to meet the needs of its population over a prolonged period of time, chaos and insecurity will result.
When power benefits only the few, it affects both the material as well as the state of mind of the many. People who are attracted to power will use whatever system they find themselves in to exploit for their advantage. Fear and resentment are the main factors used as forces of control. Fear unifies people for a particular course of action and is used to further the goals of the power seekers. Fear of foreigners is a constant theme in American history, as is the related race fear. Both of these issues are used by groups of people who gain politically by promoting conservative social and economic agendas in which they benefit financially.
So how are we to interact with power?
Recognize the importance of expanding our awareness at both the personal and social levels. In the environment (both physical and social) in which we live, there are prime determinants acting upon our individual level of consciousness. Some of the basic determinants are our need for security, belonging, affection, respect, self-respect and the desire for self-actualization. We are conditioned by those around us, starting with our family. The more nurturing those around us are, the more likely we are to become aware. Our most inner nature seldom totally disappears; however it can be sublimated and limit the process of becoming aware. We are both a product and a shaper of our society. Negative behaviors come from a society that is either not providing a nurturing environment or one that is not providing enough life-challenges for internal growth. In other words, a sick society produces sick people.
Society is a collection of individuals, conscious or otherwise. The problem is that the power we currently have in our democratic society is being severely undermined. Studies show that as people gain institutional power, they tend to become less compassionate, which makes it easier for them to misuse that power. This unabated misuse of power acts to undermine the institutions necessary to maintain a democracy. Democracy is currently under attack, not only in the United States but in other democracies around the world. It is this struggle between democratic, authoritarian, totalitarian, and other oligarchal ideologies that will determine not only the quality of life, but life itself.
The goal of a good society is to provide of all of its members and one that fails to do that ultimately collapses. That said, let us again be reminded that power is not inherently negative. There is another type of personal power: altruistic power. This is the power of selflessness and action on the behalf of others. This type of power is not sought after but accumulates by what individuals do. Examples of altruistic power can be found in the lives of Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Vaclav Havel, and Nelson Mandela and Jimmy Carter. Altruism ties back to consciousness, which is the bedrock of personal power. When we claim personal power, it overrides nihilism, helplessness and victimhood. It sparks creative, overt, solution-oriented action led by vision rather than happenstance.
Today the challenges facing humanity are global. Unless those who see the value of a new global order based on the greatest need for the greatest number of people are successful in gaining control, I suggest that all will be lost. It’s important to understand that it is in the process of decline that new ideas emerge; ideas that motivate the development and beliefs that will provide the basis for a new social arrangement that will replace the one that’s no longer functioning well. Because increased failures of the dominant paradigms are causing huge stress within civilized society, we are beginning to experience increasing numbers of people motivated to restore equilibrium. Out of this process come the ideas and actions necessary for transformation. Not surprisingly, these new ideas are in conflict with a counter set of beliefs that wish to impose different ideologies. And just as it has at other times of crisis in the human experience, this struggle reflects the spirit of our time. The results will define us and our future.
Reclaiming personal power and collectively applying it is how things change in any society. At the institutional level, we are perfectly able to create institutions that will meet our current needs.
If we are successful - and I think that we can be – the society we create will be significantly better than the one we have today. Being involved in the processes of positive change will guarantee for those who participate a more enjoyable and productive life than those who do not. What we are experiencing is the labor before the birth.