Conflict and power

There have been a number of occasions in my life when I’ve found myself in conflict with someone who had considerably more power than me. That power has come from a variety of sources – it could be the power of an employer. People in leadership roles tend to have more power and influence than those who follow them. There’s a power that comes from being charismatic and socially capable. Financial power, access to resources, an able body versus a limited body – all of these things and more can create massive power imbalances between people.

Fall out with a person who has power, and the odds are it will ripple more widely than your immediate quarrel. People are reluctant to take sides for all kinds of reasons, but throw in a person of significant power, and going up against them to support someone they’ve wronged puts the supporter in a vulnerable place. It often means if you want to support someone who has been mistreated, the only vote you have is to vote with your feet, and leave. People get isolated this way, because all they can do is leave.

We are often reluctant to believe anything bad of people whose power revolves around charisma. If we’re under the spell – and I’ve seen this happen repeatedly – it’s easier to blame the victim than contemplate the enchantment. Repeat offenders using their popularity to hide their acts of cruelty and exploitation get away with it so often because we don’t want to believe that of them. ‘Pillars of the community’ who are also wife beaters, child molesters, fraudsters, thieves, can go unchallenged amongst us because we have too much invested in believing they are good.

How do we change this?

I’ve three suggestions. One is that we need to look at power carefully. When other people hold it, keep an eye on whether that’s the power to do, or it’s a power to attract. When power draws resources, energy, people, money and status towards itself, and is the primary beneficiary, be wary. Clever people in this position will make a lot of noise about community benefit, but it’s always worth asking if this is really what’s happening. Anyone spinning the line that what benefits them benefits the community is doubly suspect.

The second suggestion is to watch how we handle our own power. Can we be told if we’ve made a mistake? Can we take responsibility and sort things out if we cause hurt? Do we default to victim blaming rather than listening if someone else has a problem with us? It’s often not a simple victim/user dynamic, especially not at the outset. When things go wrong between people it tends to be complicated, and a willingness on both sides to listen and address problems is most usually what’s called for. If one person uses what power they have to silence and push away another person, that’s where the bigger problems start. If we can encourage a culture of responsibility, we make it harder for those with more power than us to hide behind their status when there’s a problem.

Thirdly, we need to look at the benefits we think we get by supporting someone with more power, such that we’ll ignore other people’s problems. It’s more comfortable not to know what’s going on when there’s an issue between people. It’s safer to side with the person who has most power. It validates our choice to have been there in the first place. We have to be able to admit pour own capacity for error. All of us, in innocence, have the scope to support a charismatic psychopath who looked like something good. If we don’t have the courage to admit that, we’ll facilitate what they do.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

5 responses to “Conflict and power

  • cassandralathamjones

    Reblogged this on Grumpy Old Witchcraft and commented:
    Some very enlightening and thought-provoking sentiments within this blog. Well written Nimue. 🙂

  • Scott Tizzard

    Hello Nimue. I read this post and became enthralled on so many levels of thought and feeling around this subject. What you wrote packs a subtle punch in the nose in so far as it really runs deep into the idea of Pagan and, in general, human social morality and ethics. Philosophy: Nature vs nurture. Are we genetically predisposed to such social power constructs and can we control and shape such things? In my own personal life, I have encountered my share of sociopaths and, in at least 2 cases, real honest to goodness corporate psychopaths. Each entanglement with these people was a deeply unpleasant experience.

    I recall the trite saying, “History is written by the winners”. But I think there is a difference in timeline around the idea of “winning”. For example, what exactly does “winning” mean? In war, there are winners and losers from a military point of view, but in reality everyone lost something. So it is hard to define the meaning of “winning history” as it is a subjective and somewhat Orwellian concept. What about time? Can someone win in the short term and lose in the long term? I recall a visit to an abandoned church in Affane, Co Waterford, Eirie. (Irish: Adh Mheán, meaning “Central Ford”)

    The church walls stood, but the roof was gone and the alter stone was discarded and half buried as it rest against an old hawthorn tree. Some grave markers were so old they were illegible and others were new and fresh. And yet, this abandoned church was originally built on a large mound full of hawthorn trees and near the ancient River Blackwater. I noticed some of the stones in the old, unkempt, graveyard were not arrayed in straight lines but were remnants of a circle. I also noticed the grave markers were Celtic crosses which included intricate carvings of knotted snakes on their surface. There was a powerful lesson for me in this place. Individual names do not matter in long time, but the deep well of cultural memory seems to persist and does so in the face of much adversity.

    Like the River Blackwater, the portion of a river on the surface of the earth is but a fraction of what flows beneath the earth. What flows beneath the earth flows more slowly, deeply and it carries within it the memories of what has lived and died and now flows with the river. And, although the river below and the river above are the same river, per se, the river below supports the river above. The border of the river below and above is a powerful liminal place. Within this allegory, are the faces and names of current and forgotten family both present and past. Their stories and my story are the stories of the river. This is an example of a journey into a place of subtlety. A life well lived draws upon the wisdom of Awen and executes decisions predicated upon knowledge and forethought. More importantly, we do not have to journey alone.

    • Nimue Brown

      Thank you for this. Oddly, ronald Hutton in his talk at PF Wessex conference yesterday was talkuing about the way the idea of a single winner is culturally hard wired, and how much of a problem it is. New stories about what it means to win are clearly in order.

  • Scott Tizzard

    I’ve read Mr Hutton’s work on Druids. I respect his work immensely. Wish I could have heard him speak. Was there a recording? Maybe Damh’s next podcast….

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