community · World Affairs

Power Over Or Power With

I’m reading a book I picked up in the Oxfam bookshop in Hereford a few weeks ago – ‘Active Hope,’ by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone.

It’s a book about the climate emergency, with the subtitle ‘How to face the mess in we’re in without going crazy.’

It’s an honest appraisal of the situation, with helpful advice and reflective exercises to be a part of the change that we so desperately need.

There’s a story in the chapter on power that beautifully illustrates two kinds of power.

The story is a folk tale from Denmark about a meeting between two kings. “You see that tower ?” Said the first king to the second, pointing to a tall, highly fortified part of his castle. “In my kingdom, I could command any of my subjects to climb to the top, and then jump to their deaths. Such is my power that all will obey.”

The second king, who was visiting, looked around him, and then pointed to a small, humble dwelling nearby. “In my kingdom,” he said, “I can knock on the door of a house like that, and, in any town or village, I will be welcomed. Such is my power that I can stay overnight, sleeping well, without any fear for my safety.

The first king had power-over, while the second has power-with. When we we follow the path of partnership, a different quality of relationship emerges and, with this, a richer experience of community.

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