Some observations that I have seen with power and people in any group.
- Attention is power. If you forget this, you can’t understand the rest of this page.
- Everybody wants power. Including those who say “I don’t care”. It is an instinct, not a multiple choice question. Without this, you wouldn’t have a survival instinct, you wouldn’t have any logic left to your actions. Whether you actually have power, or how you choose to get it, or how do you define having power to yourself may vary.
- There is a hierarchy of power in any group. No matter if it is leaderless. No matter if it is a country with a visible leader, or a couple who respects each other, or a group of friends of similar profile. There is no such thing as two people with equal power.
- Power is a fluid thing. It keeps shifting from person to person. In a hierarchy that is clearly defined, or institutionalized, it shifts less easily, less noticeably. In informal situations where there is no conscious understanding of a leader, it shifts rapidly.
- Two kinds of power wars happen. The first is to gain power, by challenging someone more powerful, the other is to retain power, to suppress someone who might become more powerful. In essence they are the same, only depends on where you stand. They are happening all the time. You can’t escape this, because the survival instinct demands that you do all you can to remain powerful or grow in power. Denying instinct is futile. It will still manifest unnoticed by the denier, but increasingly obvious to observers.
- Because a person in power gets challenged by those who want power, we all have an automatic hesitation to be noticed as powerful. We may not understand the reluctance, but we do voice it tentatively, when we make modesty a virtue, or refuse to lead for fear of attack.
- Resisting a bid for power itself transfers some power to the bid. Attention is power. Attention of one in power is more potent than attention of one who is not.
- There are several power hierarchies in operation simultaneously. They are contextual. You may have power over your boss in some aspect of work because of your expertise, but your boss has power over you as well when it comes to your job or authority over it.
Some ways in which existing hierarchies are supported
There are also several ways in which a hierarchy is supported by people because it works to their advantage. Seen in more permanent ways in an institutionalized situation, it also happens spontaneously. Some ways are:
- Accepting the power commanded in the moment by willingly being attentive. This happens as a natural part of communication. Most people do it. Those who resist this are generally avoided unless necessary.
- Allowing someone the leadership of the group based on expertise, trust or disinterest in subject.
- Rallying behind someone to add power to that person in order to achieve a larger goal of interest to you.
Some ways in which power is granted:
- Formally – by conferring authority
- Agreeing or accepting
Some ways in which power is challenged:
- Direct challenge
- Interruption and redirection of attention.
Some reasons why change in power is desired:
- Desire to influence happenings in a different or more advantageous way
- Loss of trust in one in power
- The one in power harming those with less power.
I don’t think these have been listed out quite like that by anyone. There are endless ways and reasons. The examples are more to help you learn to recognize, so that you can spot it happening in the wild, so to say.
They are based on my observations of groups. They can be verified by observing groups, but not everyone has the skills to diagnose interactions, so for the purposes of this article, I ask you to trust these as valid till you can think these out or verify for yourself. Generally speaking, anyone capable of reading this does have enough life experience to analyze the statements for validity given some time to think, remember instances and deliberate.
This understanding of power will form the basis of a few articles on subjects ranging from abuse to child rights to politics. Will list them here as I write them. If the article was written as clearly as I see these flows, you’ll probably write the articles in the comments on your own 😀