The Howells Group Blog


Positive Power

When the unrelenting flood of harassment revelations broke loose last October, I felt horror, disgust, and disbelief at the extent of the abuse and criminal acts. Then, I felt that hot, white anger grip me, and I wasn’t sure what to do with it all. What would my response be? How could I make a difference? And I started to think a lot about power. As I processed the reports that kept coming daily, I had to ask myself “What is my relationship to power?”, “Have I looked the other way when men and women continually abuse power?”, “How can we transform the expectations for those who hold power?”. In the process I arrived at four actions you can take to make a difference:

1. Embrace Your Personal Power This is much harder than it may sound. Women and children are still encultured to “be nice”; code for “passive” and “compliant; don’t make waves, don’t upset others and don’t speak back to power. That was the prevailing norm in the 60’s and 70’s when I was growing up, and it still permeates our culture. And it’s the perfect environment for power abusers to target those they think won’t or can’t fight back. It’s been said that the best defense is an offense, and I agree. Protect yourself by cultivating your own agency; speak courageously and act powerfully. And encourage others to do the same.

Alice Walker Quote2. Talk About Power – Psychologist, writer and activist Jean Baker Miller astutely observed “Quite amazingly, those who have the most power in our society almost never talk about it, and even more amazing – they induce the rest of us not to recognize or talk about it either.” Even in American culture, we’ve become accustomed to, and even accepting of, people using power for their personal good at other’s expense or harm. Seeing when the negative use of power is at play and calling it out can be dangerous, but silence won’t change things. When each of us calls out what we are experiencing, it brings wrong intentions and actions into the light and into the collective consciousness. When Time Magazine named those who recently broke the silence on hidden harassment and abuse “Persons of the Year”, they rightly acknowledged the power of individual and collective action. I am greateful to these people who led the way for us all, men and women, to speak up.

3. Refuse to Be Silenced or Stopped by Fear – Power abusers wield fear as their most potent weapon. The #metoo revelations underscored power abusers who threaten people’s jobs, safety, self -esteem, financial security and even their loved ones. Megan Kelly reflected during her experiences as the #metoo reports morphed into a movement; “What if we did complain?” “What if we didn’t whine, but we spoke our truth in our strongest voices and insisted that those around us did better? What if that worked to change reality right now?” We’re following in the courageous steps of suffragettes, abolitionists, and civil rights activists, who understood the journey takes solidarity, hope, and resilience to continually speak out and refused to be stopped by fear.

Wonder Woman

4. Model and Mentor Positive Power – The root of the word power is “dunamis”; the same root word used in the English word “dynamite”. Dynamite can build roads and has made a positive difference in establishing a civilization. But much like power, when dynamite is used to wield “power over” it has caused death and immeasurable harm. Power itself is neutral. Just like dynamite, it depends on how you use it. We need to develop and reward more women and men for perpetuating “positive power”; power with others, power for others, power under the control of character and accountability. Together, we can’t and won’t accept a culture and institutional leaders that use their power to destroy others. It’s time – it begins with each one of us, inviting others to do the same!

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