Often, what having power means, is being able to do to other people things they are not able to do to you. If that isn’t actual violence, it will still be something that creates and environment for violence. Pagan communities abound with opportunities to get power over other people. The teacher-pupil dynamic can readily confer the wrong kind of power, as can being a ‘leader’ of events and activities. It all too readily it becomes a justification for making people do things your way. Once you start down that route, inflicting your will upon others, it’s a slippery slope. We stop listening to what other people say they want and need. Most dangerously, we decide we know better than them, and thus we get to the mindset that can announce it may be hurting you, but it’ll be for your own good in the long run. It may feel like rape, but that’s because you’re not able to properly express your sexual needs. Trust me, you don’t know how to manage that money, and you don’t know what you should be eating… scary stuff.
We can enter this kind of power dynamic in family life – the parent/child relationship is laden with opportunities to turn responsibility into despotism. When someone has far less power and knowledge than you, it is painfully easy to manipulate them, to ignore their feelings and preferences and force them to exist in-line with your designs. The damage this does is colossal. Again, while it may not manifest as physical violence, it is a violence against the spirit.
What happens to us when we adopt this approach? It isn’t good for the perpetrator either. This kind of power-over serves to entrench fear. After all, you want that power for protective reasons. You want to prevent them doing something to you (quite probably that which you are doing to them). You fear everyone is as unreasonable as you are and that only by having power over them can you stay safe. Do unto others or they will do unto you. Holding this kind of power means never giving yourself chance to find out that it might be different. Not everyone wants to control and manipulate. Letting other people hold different opinions is not going to take you to the hell you secretly fear. Let’s pause to consider gay marriage issues in light of this one. What are the bigots so afraid of?
When we force our will upon others, we don’t make things better for ourselves. We reduce our options, cut ourselves off from alternative perspectives that could have been really helpful. We also make it impossible to have real relationships, because nothing meaningful or truly loving can flourish in that kind of power-based scenario. To seek power over other people is to lose, and to keep losing, in more ways than you are likely to be able to see. It’s when we live and work co-operatively and with mutual respect that the good stuff happens.
The other kind of power, the power to get things done, is a whole other bag of squirrels. If you seek power in order to enable not just yourself, but others, you won’t get into this power trap. If you want power to fix something, to heal, to improve and you’re doing that co-operatively, then power is a good and useful thing. It’s when power becomes an end in its own right that the problems start. When holding power is more important than doing the right things. When appearing to be right becomes more important than actually being right.
Seeking power is a dangerous business. Power is seductive. If you care about yourself, it’s worth approaching any opportunities for power with a great deal of caution. I’ve also noticed that I haven’t met a single awful person who believed they were evil. Outside of fantasy fiction, no one believes they are evil and everyone will have a story about how what they do is perfectly reasonable. Even if they know the behaviour is wrong, they know that there is a special exemption clause that covers their unique situation. Most people who are very wrong, are entirely convinced they are right, and are unable to countenance different perspectives. This is probably the biggest trap of the lot.