The twelfth installment in the series of articles written by our friend, Solomon Rajaram Hariharan, a member of the “Dream team 2012” of “Sri Lanka Unites”( A youth movement for hope and reconciliation).
Understanding both rights and responsibilities contributes to social harmony. Responsible use of power is a component of this understanding. Power is often given a meaning of one’s advantage over another in a violent, forceful, persuasive manner. However this is not always the case. Some types of power are easy to see and comprehend while other types are much more difficult. We will discuss the types of power later. Power is not an inert thing that some possess. Power exists in relationships. It can be defined as the ability to have an impact on the world. Responsible use of power is central to the development of a peaceful, pluralistic and democratic society.
What comes to my mind when I hear the word power; is the ability to have control over a community by means of working together or dictatorship. Thus power has a positive as well as negative side. For example our parents, school administration, office administration and the national administration have power over us. We feel powerless at moments when we face these groups of people. On the other hand if we are leaders in schools, the students under us would feel powerless when they interact with us. A good leader would strive hard to control the society by means of working with the people instead of attempting to suppress the people. We often get confused with the terms power and strength. Simply we can define strength as the talents within a person and power as the work the society gives to an individual after identifying the talents. While strength is not something someone can give you, power is transferable. Strength is not internal. It shows people who you are. Power is the ability to do something you possibly cannot do alone. It is also the ability to control and influence others.
A leader in power has a big responsibility of using the power to benefit others and build peace and social harmony. The wise way of using this power is treating people below in the same way as one would want to be treated by the people above. Decentralizing power is advantageous as the leader will not have to carry the whole burden of responsibilities. Instead, the responsibilities can be shared, thus working towards social harmony. We can see this in a prefects’ board. It is the way the prefects work and act that makes the Head Prefect a good leader. Thus we can see that decentralization is important in dividing responsibilities.
We will now see the types of power.
Power-over: It is the ability to force others to submit to your will regardless of their wishes and is often associated with violence or the threat of violence. This is the most common type in our society.
Power-with: It comes from our ability to listen to, empathize and understand others, and to identify shared beliefs and interests. It comes when we cooperate with others to achieve shared goals. Co-existence and collaborative efforts should be undertaken to deal issues in the society, as combined power always exceeds everything else.
Power-within: It comes from the inner strength associated with courage, conviction and self discipline. For some people, power-within has its source in spirituality.
Conflict resolution should be approached with power-with and within instead of power-over, as the latter usually created negative effects. We should look beyond coercive power and recognize personal and collaborative power. This will point out methods that will produce non-violent constructive solutions for conflicts.
Power can be used for destructive and constructive purposes. When power is understood broadly as ways to influence other people’s behavior we can see new places where individuals and groups are having power, which can help us to use these sources of power to correct imbalances and injustices.
Editor’s note: The above mentioned sources of power would be discussed in the next article.