Power and Control

In human affairs, power is a concept with two very different meanings--'power to' and 'power over.' ‘Power to’ refers to the ability of a person to change the circumstances of his or her life by creating and exercising options.

A common response to insecurity is trying to control situations. Attempting to control a situation is very different from attempting to change a situation. To control a situation, the desires of other people are disregarded, ostensibly to achieve what is 'best.' To change a situation, the desires of others are taken into account, and quite commonly, cooperation is solicited based on persuasion and mutual interest.

Taking it to the next level, and controlling people, however. becomes power over,' which refers to the ability to change one’s life by limiting the options of others. It is naive to think that a civil society can run without any power over. Police have limited power over civilians, for instance. When 'power over' passes a threshold, it is reasonable speak of “control” Parents have control over small children. But as the abilities of children increase, good nurture requires that power over them be relinquished steadily and be replaced by influence. Influence is the effect of how we live on how others perceive and manage their options. Influence does not take options away.

Having one’s ‘power to’ make choices overruled by another person’s ‘power over’ leads to an experience of powerlessness.  Powerlessness early in life tends to produce a later undue interest in power, sometimes in ‘power to’ but most commonly in 'power over'.

Our culture is increasingly;y based on power. Power over nature is considered a right. People are esteemed based on what they 'can make happen.' There is increasingly an emphasis on sheer capacity rather than on inclination or satisfaction.