Violence has been a source of power for thousands of years. Empires have been built through the use of violent power. Control over various groups has been maintained through violence. We see it all of the time.
Violence makes certain actions expensive. It means if you do not go along with someone or some expectations, you can be harmed. It is one kind of coercion. We are always taking stock of the consequences of our actions vis a vis the social groups we are in to protect ourselves from those who use their power in destructive ways.
Violence may have made sense in the early days of human life when there were so many threats – not just from other humans – to make warrior skills among the most important we could develop in ourselves. The problem with warrior skills is that they are not all we need. There are other skills we need as well. Warriors learn to kill; that is not the skill we need when we need to build something, whether a house or a culture.
The Complicated History Of Power
Over thousands of years and a huge number of conflicts, we have arrived at a point where it has become obvious that war alone cannot be the conversation. Fighting is not enough. We need to be able to work together and build together. Fighting is very fear-based and can be a short-sighted approach to differences.
Unfortunately, change is complicated by all of the resentment created over the same thousands of years because of unresolved injustices. But injustices are not the only issue we have to deal with. The reality is that different cultures require different skills, and in order to survive in a culture, you develop the ones that work in that culture even if it is oppressive. So, the disparity in skills created by different cultures can make bringing people together difficult because everyone is in a different place.
This is not necessarily a fault of the people in individual cultures. We adapt to our reality and work with it, so we do not expect people in the hottest climates to be alpine skiers – a silly example, I know. It is also important to note that each culture does have important skills, and our earlier cultures have important understandings of nature that we do not have in the industrial world. So we really do need each other. Ayurveda is a health care system developed about 5-6000 years ago that is highly skilled at helping us be healthy. I have been amazed and grateful for its benefits since I am genetically predisposed to get blood clots. It has been a lifesaver and made COVID less scary for me.
There are additional complications created by cultural structures. Hierarchical, authoritarian structures do not necessarily support the education and thriving of their cultures. For thousands of years, authoritarian cultures have invested in control, a fear-based attitude.
If we intend to shift out of war, as central and even foundational for human culture, we need a way to do so. The human story has been survival up until now. We could make thriving – the real healthy thriving of earth and all living creatures, including us humans – our focus instead.
So what do we do? We have injustices to fix and disparities in education and skills, which can be barriers to our ability to share power together. But we also need each other.
A Lot To Fix Or Change
We cannot change history, and learning from it is not enough if the lessons being taught are not healthy ones. We do not need more authoritarian “lessons.”
We cannot kid ourselves that we are not all in the same place, and so our differences can make connection challenging without there being anything wrong with us. Language, geography, practices, and habits make a big difference.
We are just starting to work on building cultures of connection rather than empire-based systems, and frankly, we are all groping around in the dark. At least we have that in common!
There is something really important that can help immensely. The latest cultural invention, capitalism, had the purpose of creating material well-being. It had succeeded in creating what was needed to make that a reality, and its job is done. That means we have the power to look around the world and decide to make sure that everyone has the basic material infrastructure to survive, and we can all turn our attention to thriving,
To do that, though, we have to resolve and heal historical injustices and rebalance our relationships with each other and nature. It’s a tall order but actually a good problem to have.
How A Joy Practice Makes Power Healthy
A joy practice helps us because it has a constructive focus. By being constructive, caring, and serving the common good, we have the ability to find answers despite groping around in the dark. It helps us eliminate fear, exclusion, and extremes that prevent us from finding common ground and creating well-being together. A joy practice is practical and grounded and takes us out of ideologies that divide and hurt us. We need to get our feet back on the ground. We need to connect with reality and solve major problems, including climate and environmental emergencies. And in doing so, we can reduce the amount of emergencies that claim so much of our attention.
Connection power is different from warrior power. Constructive power, the power of building together, differs from climbing some ladder. Generous power is different from withholding power. Supportive and creative power is much more valuable than punitive power.
I like how many people are working on this new version of human power that is kinder, generous, more practical, and grounded. Frankly, it is a huge relief that is long overdue and very much earned by the hard-working people who got us this far.
I want to close by reading a wonderful poem by David Whyte
YOUR SIMPLE WISH
Excerpt from ‘Santiago’
From PILGRIM: Poems by David Whyte
So that one day you realized,
that what you wanted
had actually already happened,
and long ago, and in the dwelling place
in which you lived before you began,
and that every step along the way,
you had carried
the heart and the mind and the promise,
that first set you off and then drew you on,
you were more marvelous
in your simple wish to find a way
than the gilded roofs of any destination you could reach…
Embrace your simple wish. It is worth a lot.