The Nature of Power, or, Why Morticia Addams is My Role Model

This was a perennially popular post on my old platform. Somewhat edited here.

There is a certain assumption in U.S. culture (probably beyond but I don’t want to make assumptions) when it is said someone is powerful it means that he or she is able to command others. To make things happen in the world.

But it seems to me that there are limits to that kind of power and that it operates in a variety of ways that all require the willing participation of others.

Sometimes that means that the person in power must divine what others want to do anyway, then command them to do it. At the same time these others feel absolved of responsibility (they were only following orders).

Other times the power is dependent upon being able to persuade others that what they are being asked to do is right and proper (whether it is or not). It can also mean convincing people you’ve never met that you have their best interests at heart (whether you do or not).

It can be dependent upon others being willing to take orders and act on them because they get something out of it. The benefit to them might be the power conferred upon them because they are acting on behalf of the one in power.

And that’s as far as my mind can go. My brain goes into overload at a certain level of complexity.

I know it is possible for individuals “in power” to wear the mantle without losing their humanity. There are people who take it on in order to actually do good in the world. Some of those who try to do that succeed; others fail.

But the kind of power that relies on the acquiescence of others can be a heavy burden—especially if you take it on to do good in the world.

I hadn’t thought about any of that in more than a cursory way when I became a  ministerial guide at an alternative spirituality church. I had been studying spirituality for decades and thought it was my responsibility to step up and share what I’d learned. I came up hard against the community’s expectations about their ministers. I’d been a member of the community before my selection and I thought I’d continue in the same (if more visible) way. Instead, I felt thrust into a role in which my every personal opinion became a decree from on high. I soon learned not to expect to be able to have conversations with community members as equals (except with the council and other ministerial guides).

I struggled for three years to meet the needs of the organization and the people within in it without ever really understanding what had happened. In the course of my efforts, I was labeled power mad (along with my co-guides) when I couldn’t see there was power to be had, much less lusted after. There came a point when I realized the church didn’t need what I had to offer and that what was needed could be better supplied by someone else. The first genuinely powerful thing I did in the relationship was resign.

Going through that time was a great gift to myself, however, because the life I’d known before ministeriality was gone.

There was no room for life as I’d known it before during the storm and noise of ministerial duties. Many old habits of living and thinking perforce burned away.

I found myself flailing to gain new footing as I assessed what had happened, even as thousand weights lifted along with the responsibility.

What I found was this: The furniture of my life, everything that didn’t resonate with my true self, had been displaced, destroyed, and moved out to make room for the huge, difficult thing that was being a minister. Now I wandered through empty rooms amazed at how much space was there now that all the clutter was gone beyond recall.

It’s difficult to remember what had been there before. After a bit of dredging I’ve remembered a few things: what women are supposed to be like; what men are supposed to be like; how yoga classes and teachers are supposed to be and how poorly I measured up; how hugely I fail at being “normal”.

But even if I wanted to, I couldn’t call those things back into being. My inner house was calling out to be decorated in a conscious manner. I needed to refer often to my authentic self (still working on it) to create a life that arises out of who I am instead of who I think I ought to be. (This is what I thought I’d been doing before but hadn’t quite managed.)

Acting from a place of authenticity is what true power, sometimes called personal power, is. I’d heard of it (and wanted it) but I hadn’t understood what it meant. Now I see that it is stepping free from the expectations of others (and allowing them freedom from yours).

It means taking action that arises from the true self and accepting the consequences, whatever they may be.

It means admiring Morticia Addams as she follows the beat of her own eccentric drummer. It means standing (like Morticia) outside of normal with compassion for the attempts of others to be normal.

It means allowing others to have their own journeys whether they are meaningful to me or not while I pursue mine.

Having gone through this article again, I see that the qualities I admire in Morticia are the very qualities that Bhalpreet Kaur exhibits. I invite you to read everything you can about her.

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