Tag Archives: power

Reclaiming Power – a poem

Let my power be

What grace I have,

The sway of my hips

A bolder spine

Defiant chin.

Available as I choose

Open arms

Open thighs

The power to say no

Is the power to say yes

With all my heart.

 

I claim the power to trust

That I will be honoured

My power not misread

As power over or excuse

No patriarchal Goddess

Of Justification, no deity

Of rape culture made to bear

The shame and guilt

Of violent transgression

I refuse this story, this history.

 

My power is in the gifting

Power to share and express

When that essential energy

Meets your generous power

When we are mighty together

For each other

None diminished.

 

Enchant me, seduce me, delight me.

You have no power over me

Except as I freely submit.

Gasp for me, yearn for me

Fall at my feet if you

Would give such power to me

And see your own strength

In the beauty of all

You give away.

 

Let my power flow in my hips

Open arms, open thighs

The willing, triumphant surrender

When it is safe to choose

Powerlessness

Safe to choose

Power.


Druidry and Power

In a spiritual context, power is so seldom seen as a good thing. We might talk about how power corrupts, or about how we harm ourselves when we give away our power. However, there are many ways in which holding power, and recognising the power another person has over us, can be tremendously good things.

I think there’s a lot of good Druid work to be done around exploring how we can be powerful for each other.

If you stand in your own power then you can raise other people up. Your praise, affirmation and encouragement become more effective. When you hold power, you have the means to empower others.

If someone else finds you powerful, and that feels like pressure or being put on a pedestal, it can be a missed opportunity. Stepping into a place of power in someone else’s life can be transformative. It’s something to do carefully, mindful of the responsibilities, while not taking on things that are not yours to bear. Sometimes, when stepping up to be powerful for someone else, we can find lessons for our own lives. Changes in how we see ourselves can flow from this. Being powerful for someone can be a great teacher and can be intensely humbling as well.

It’s not unusual to encounter spiritually minded people talking about not giving power away. It’s good to question the idea of what another person can ‘make’ us do or feel. However, when we talk about not giving a person the power to make us do or feel things, we miss out. We focus too much on the negativity – the people who ‘make’ us feel sad or angry or hurt or frustrated… often also ignoring the way in which deliberate bullying sets out to force those feelings onto you. But, what about the people who make us feel glad and joyful? The people who open our hearts and bring love, mirth, delight, hope and other such feelings? They too have power over us, they too are making us feel things – and it is better to be able to welcome that.

Power is a nuanced, complex thing. It isn’t inherently problematic. We benefit when we make room for the people who have the power to inspire us, heal us, help us and guide us. As Druids, I do not think we should fear holding power in this way, either. To inspire a person is to be powerful. We do hold power over people when we undertake to teach them, or lead them in ritual. If that’s done with care and honour, if we use that power to empower, then there is no corruption in it.


Body Stories

We attach meanings to bodies. We pass around stories about what certain body shapes mean. Some bodies we sexualise, and some we desexualise with no reference to the nature of the person whose body it is. The racists amongst us have stories about the meaning of skin tones that has nothing to do with the people those stories are imposed on. Those stories are used to cause harm and to reduce opportunities.

We tell stories about disabled bodies that are profoundly unhelpful to the people they are about. The stories of liars, scroungers, and fakes beget violence. The stories about what a disabled body means regarding the capability of the person, keep people out of jobs, social spaces and opportunities. The stories about being brave and inspirational are perhaps less toxic, but just as much about imposing a narrative on someone else.

If you have big breasts there is no way of dressing short of using a binder, that makes your body look modest in some people’s eyes. It is, by all accounts worse if you are a black woman, much worse if you are a younger black woman with curves –  that your body will be read in a sexual way no matter what you do, or who you are. The power to impose a story on someone else’s body is the power to say they were asking for it, they were dressed provocatively, their consent can be inferred.

When we read poverty on a person, we judge them for being lazy, dirty and feckless. When we don’t see those things, we judge a person claiming poverty as lying.

It doesn’t get much more personal than the story about what your body means. When people are able to read your body and impose their meanings upon you, there is a massive power imbalance. When you are told what you can and cannot do because your body is read as old, or female, or black, then you are at a huge disadvantage. If you don’t get to act based on your own body story, you are compromised in so many ways.

People who consider themselves normal measure other people’s bodies in relation to their own. All too often, no one asks what a person can do, or how they feel. We put superficial readings of bodies ahead of finding out what a person actually does.

Who gets to tell the story about what your body means? Who gets to impose limitations on you based on how they read your body? Who do you judge on appearances? What assumptions do you make when you look at someone who is different from you? None of us are entirely free from this.


Conforming to group identities

For a group identity to make any sense, there have to be edges that define it. There are many questions we should be asking of those edges in any groups we encounter.

Who gets to define the boundaries? Usually it will be the people with the most power and privilege. Sometimes it will be people outside of the group itself. When this happens, it is often to silence or dismiss people who are inconvenient to a majority, or to a dominant world view. The way in which non-Zionist Jews are excluded when non-Jewish people talk (ominously, I feel) about The Jews at the moment is a case in point, and a deeply unsettling one.

What happens to people who are pushed out? Do any options exist for them? To be unable to stay in a local community space because it’s full of sexist dinosaurs is horrible, but probably liveable with. To be unable to access medical support because your provider won’t deal with trans people, is a disaster.

What happens to people who cannot fit in the boundaries? Are they punished for this? Are they pushed out further if they don’t go along with the group narrative? How much diversity does the group tolerate? How much conformity is demanded? Who gets to decide who should be conforming to what, and how do they wield that power? Who gets to control the narrative of the group identity?

There is power in defining the narrative. It is also an opportunity that is available to the most powerful. People who have least power are most likely to be pushed to the edges by people who have the most power. What happens when someone from outside the group takes on an identity to try and distort the boundaries and norms of the group? This does seem to happen online, and happens for political reasons.

How do we hold our edges? What are we protecting and what are we willing to make room for? What do we do when we’re pushed to the margins, and what do we do if we see someone else being pushed out? When is that justified, and when does it need resisting? These are not questions with simple answers, but ones to keep asking any time we engage in group dynamics.


Seeking discomfort

One of the hardest things to do is wilfully challenge the ways in which you are comfortable. Yesterday’s blog – Seeking comfort brought up a comment about white poverty in the southern states of America, “Why do people so often assume that to be white means to have a privileged life?” I’ve been in this conversation quite a few times before. It makes people uncomfortable.

Privilege is relative, and not an absolute condition, you can have privilege in some ways and be massively disadvantaged in others. You can be dirt poor and better off than someone else who is dirt poor and of a minority religion, sexual identity or racial background. It’s not that white privilege means we white people all have it easy, it means there are people who, by dint of skin colour, have it harder than us. In just the same way, having straight privilege, or male privilege, or cis privilege or being mentally and physically well does mean you live a charmed life. It means you have a certain set of advantages that you may be taking for granted.

If you’ve never looked at how your life may advantage you in some ways, it tends to be an uncomfortable process. If you are invested in the idea of your disadvantage, it can be really uncomfortable looking at how realistic this is. There’s a lot of difference between being poor in a peaceful country that has a social safety net and being poor in a famine or a war zone. And of course there are some vocal young men out there on social media keen to get across the idea that middle class straight white boys are the most persecuted minority in the world. If you think being able to flag up how persecuted you are creates some kind of social advantage, of course you’ll want to persuade people you are the ‘real’ victim. That kind of behaviour can only come from a place of not understanding what it means to be disadvantaged.

Having our stories challenged is never comfortable. We all exist in contexts that involve other people, culture, history… we are all still implicated in what colonialism has done around the world and what capitalism does, and the exploitation and abuse these things involve. It isn’t comfortable. It’s much more comfortable to pretend you don’t benefit from the things you benefit from. It’s much easier not to look at how you fit in the bigger picture.

Being able to resist such discomfort by refusing to engage with it, is the biggest privilege there is. Being able to deny your position in your culture and history is a place of power. Those who are trapped by culture and history don’t get to pretend it isn’t happening to them and have that be an effective solution.

Willingness to be uncomfortable is necessary for change. If we aren’t willing to be uncomfortable, we won’t work for fairness, or justice or equality. And if we’re making other people uncomfortable, it’s important to ask are we doing that by doubling down on what’s already hard for them, or are we doing it by pointing out where things might be better for them than they’ve acknowledged. If people are living in a state of discomfort, the right answer is to try and ease that where we can. If people are comfortable and oblivious to how much they have – they urgently need to feel uncomfortable. Most of us fall somewhere in between, advantaged in some ways and disadvantaged in others and better off when we can see how that works.


Seeking comfort

Our soft mammal bodies crave comfort. Climate crisis is going to give us a hard time on that score as we struggle with extremes of heat and cold, drought and rain. Those who have least will be hurt most by this. Those who have most will wack on the air con, or the heater and add to the problems.

Some people lack for comfort because they don’t have enough food, or can’t afford enough. Protein and good quality fats are expensive. Our bodies don’t always seem able to tell the difference between the comfort of sufficiency, and the kind of excess that will bring discomfort. We did not evolve to deal with routine excess.

Rest is one of the most important comforts available to us, and hard to come by. Rest requires quiet, space and time in which to do very little and feel ok about that. We’re encouraged to have hectic ‘modern’ lifestyles that deprive us of rest, and then to seek comfort other places – by buying something. A sofa, alcohol, junk food, holidays… None of the things we buy when we are trying to offset insufficient rest will give us the comfort we need.

Emotional comfort goes to those who have most and are most conventional. To be straight and white, middle class, financially secure, well educated, and home owning represents a selection of comforts that may be invisible to the person who has them. To be queer, poor, working insecure jobs and living in insecure conditions is to be much less comfortable. Many of these things intersect with each other to make things worse. Add in ethnicity, and the stresses and vulnerabilities this involves in any white-dominated society, and there’s a lot to contend with.

We seek comfort, all of us. For those of us who are systemically kept outside the comfort zones, this can be hard going, or impossible. For those who have too much comfort, this can lead to lack of empathy and understanding for those who have less. It can result in feelings of having deserved to be comfortable and being entitled to be comfortable. Thus when the uncomfortable make themselves seen and heard, the comfortable often feel threatened by this.

Too much comfort can make a life stagnant and unsatisfying – we do all need some challenges and opportunities to grow and learn. Too little comfort is a problem on a whole different scale. To live a life with no padding, no insulation against setback, much less disaster, is hard. Every day. To face only challenges and seldom know respite is emotionally exhausting. To fight against people who have too much and don’t understand what their comfort means, or what it means not to have that, is relentless.

Those with the most, and with the greatest sense of entitlement are also those with the most power, and they tend to reinforce the status quo – not always consciously. If everything supports your comfort and ease, it must be really tempting to see that as the natural order of things, and to see those who have less as less deserving, even if you never consciously think in those terms. It’s not comfortable asking how your comfort relates to the discomfort of others. When you have the power to maintain your comfort at someone else’s expense, it’s very easy not to look at how that works.


Labels, power and identity

Labels are certainly useful when it comes to finding people you have stuff in common with. The Druid, Pagan and Steampunk labels have served me very well in that way. When we give ourselves those labels and seek other people who identify with them most of what happens is good.

Naming things is essential if you want to talk about them. Finding descriptions we can agree about isn’t always an easy process, and the more personal and emotive the things that need naming, the harder it gets. When people are on an even footing trying to find language to communicate, the inevitable bumps in this process are, I think, largely worth it.

However, labels can also be stuck to people as an act of power-over. To have the power to label someone is to have the power to over-rule their self identification and replace it with your own terms. This may be backed up by notions of being ‘academic’ or more informed or having authority based on your job, or other forms of seniority. However, when you take away a person’s right to name themselves and put a label on them, you reduce their power and assert your own. When that happens, the basis of the authority needs questioning.

Labels can also be refused and taken away. There’s always someone keen to say who isn’t a real Steampunk, Pagan, Druid, Briton, Jew, to tell disabled people they aren’t really disabled… to tell people they don’t look poor so they can’t be working class, that their gender identity doesn’t exist… It’s nasty stuff. As many of those examples flag up, it’s not just a name you lose when this happens – it may be state aid, the right to self expression, safety, and other essential things. Miss-labeling is so often where we start when we intend to strip people of other things as well.

If we aren’t on an equal footing when labels are being ascribed, then labels are something that are done to us. Politicians calling refugees migrants is a case in point. That’s a re-labeling with massive consequences. Think about the kind of language used to label the LGBTQ community, or the habit of less inclusive Christians to insist that all Pagans are Satanists. Miss-labeling tends to disappear something of who you are and replace it with who you are assumed to be. It can be anything from annoying through to life threatening, depending on the context. It’s definitely not something to take lightly.


What we enable

There’s a high profile man locally who makes a habit of putting hands on women and does not hear when women tell him they don’t like or want it. He tends to be a toucher of arms and shoulders, so a lot of people feel it’s no big deal. He doesn’t do it to men. I’ve talked to plenty of women who find it an uncomfortable invasion. I’ve also had a fair few people tell me (mostly, but not exclusively men) that this guy is ok because they think he means well and is harmless. I want to talk about the consequences of this.

Everyone should have the right to say no to being touched. Some of us are in pain and can be hurt by apparently innocent gestures. Some of us are dealing with the aftermath of trauma and can be triggered by unexpected or unwanted contact. Some of us just don’t want to be touched. The right of women to say no to contact – any contact – and have that heard and respected is fundamental to consent culture. When people decide that small infringements are ok, that a bit of ignoring consent is no big deal, it makes other infringements that bit easier.

If a woman tells you she doesn’t like a man persistently touching her, and you tell her why she shouldn’t mind, it has consequences. It makes it that bit harder to flag up worse encroachments. If you know that a person with enough power and status will be totally excused when he makes you uncomfortable, what support can you expect if he takes it further? What response is likely if you need to flag up serious abuse, bullying, harassment, groping and so forth from the same man, or another man? If there’s a culture of letting people off the hook, it’s harder to deal with bigger things.

As it happens, my local invader of space goes in for a lot of sexist behaviour, and mostly gets away with it. The touching is one facet of this, not the only issue.

In balance to this, I’ve had conversations with men who, when I’ve talked about this, have recognised that it isn’t ok and have had heard me out. I’ve talked to men who have questioned their own assumptions and beliefs, and reconsidered their own behaviour. Men who have been willing to be uncomfortable and realise that what they thought was fine, maybe wasn’t.

If you’re a man in a position of power, and you touch women socially, are you confident they feel able to tell you if they don’t like it? Have you ever asked them? Would you respect their wishes if they said no to it? Or would you, as a number of men have done to me, tell them why your social touching is ok and they should accept it?

‘It’s just…’

Except if it makes a person feel sad, anxious, insecure, afraid, imposed on, compromised etc, it isn’t a small thing. Just because the touch is no big deal for the person doing it, doesn’t mean it must also be no big deal for the person experiencing it. If we assume that a man’s experience of touching a woman is what defines the encounter (no big deal) we make no space for the fact that women are often having radically different experiences in the situation.

 

(This has been a rather gender binary blog, in part because this is a problem that most often occurs in the most hetronormative situations.)


Too much responsibility

As a teen I really took on board the idea that we can only have freedom and power in so far as we are willing to take responsibility. On the whole, I’ve found that a useful approach to life. As with all things, you can end up with too much of it. Too much responsibility does not translate into too much power, or too much freedom. There’s a point somewhere on the scale when a lot of responsibility means a loss of power and a closing down of options.

If responsibility is taken by someone who does not have the means to deliver on it, there are going to be problems. Being given responsibilities in a job, or a relationship, but denied the resources to deal with those responsibilities, is a crushing thing.

There are things we definitely cannot and should not be made responsible for. Other people’s inner lives are a case in point. We are responsible for how we treat each other. We owe each other basic care and respect. We owe it to each other to listen and try to factor in each other’s needs and issues. However, too much responsibility for someone else’s feelings and thoughts puts you in a place of powerlessness and may be deeply harming. If I am kind, careful and respectful and it still isn’t enough… If it is my job to magically know what others want and need, without being told… If it is my job to twist myself in knots trying to give someone else what they want… responsibility becomes a noose around my neck. I’ve been here, and making a person this responsible for someone else’s feelings is a form of emotional control, and pretty abusive stuff.

Sometimes, if we take on too much responsibility, we deny someone else the opportunity to grow and flourish. Parents who try to do everything for their kids mean well, but do not allow their children to discover and own their own power. If we take on too much responsibility for someone else’s life, we can take power from them, undermine their dignity and sense of autonomy.

If we make ourselves responsible for things we cannot have any say in, we can drive ourselves mad. A person suffering from anxiety may feel that everything has to be perfect, even when many things are beyond their control. Not being able to make things perfect may cause a great deal of fear. On its own, this may seem preposterous, but when you factor in what happens to people when they are made responsible for things beyond their control, continuing with those expectations even after the situation has ended, is not so irrational. Who knows who else might want the same level of responsibility from you?

It is good to pause now and then and ask what we’ve shouldered, and whether we should still be carrying it.


Self policing and policing others

In any community, there are always people who want to police things. People who want to be gatekeepers and set standards and say who is allowed in and who is not good enough. It is of course a position of power to be able to force others out, or define the boundaries. To be the person whose version of ‘the right way’ becomes definitive is a powerful place to be. Are you doing folk music right? Is your take on Steampunk really Steampunk enough? Are you a proper Druid? Are you a real geek? Do you know enough to be entitled to call yourself a fan of X, Y or Z?

It’s bloody miserable stuff. Mostly what it creates is discomfort, drama, power struggles, resentment and an undermining of creativity and new thinking. I can’t think of a single example of someone trying to play gatekeeper in a community in this way where things have been better and happier as a direct consequence.

If you think there’s a right and proper way to do things, it is better to lead by example. Live your truth. Demonstrate why your way is good, or best, or the only possible way. People may or may not agree with you. We have the right to make our own rules for ourselves, that’s fine. We have the right to adopt the ways of doing things that we see and are inspired by. There’s nothing wrong with following, and everything wrong with being told that you have to follow.

If you really are right about things then it will be self evident and people will come onboard. If your ideas are brilliant and persuasive, exposure will be enough to persuade people. Anyone who has to bully and harass people into agreeing with them is not really demonstrating a belief in the intrinsic excellence of what they’re advocating.