The white, educated, middle and upper-middle class now seems to have lost its spiritual ground of caring about the welfare of others. Pursuing the idols of achievement, materialism, money, and security seem to be its new religion. Putting a premium on serving the community, lifting others, and finding joy in trying to educate and empower every citizen seems to have gone underground. As caring for each other by those who have the real power to influence our communities has become secondary to self-interest, the energy of those people who are becoming side-lined and alienated is erupting through emotionally and physically violent outbursts, suicides, and addictions.
We live in a time when my social group, which could affect so much change in our society, has generally misunderstood and become uncomfortable with the use of power. The wounds to love caused by the ways our society has structured its values has limited and hurt our most important instinctual foundation. This foundation is made up of three instinctual patterns. The first is the mother instinct that must be cultivated from and through our primal relation to our mother and will then internally support our ability to like, nourish, and take care of ourselves throughout our lives. The second is the father instinct that is our instinctual need to become self-reliant, autonomous, and independent. The third is the power instinct which, when developed in a healthy manner, gives us the ability to experience ourselves as having value because we are able to succeed and achieve certain desired goals; through this process we gain a sense of confidence in living our lives.
It may surprise you to realize that power is essential for all living things. The word power comes from the Latin, “posse” which means “to be able.” When our power instinct begins to awaken and grow in the fertile field of a family’s love it is crucial in molding our feelings of self-worth. It gives us the ability to experience ourselves as having value because we increasingly feel we are able to pursue desired goals, achieve them, and by that process feel we are able to gain a measure of control over our lives and future. As we mature, it is our power instinct that can give us the sense of security that comes from a feeling of being able to be and do on our own independently from our parents, and later institutions that may substitute for them.
Let us look at how our power instinct is wounded in the school of love we call families; several things can happen. To begin with, as this instinct becomes wounded it turns on us in its negative form. It can begin to paralyze us with self-criticism and perfectionism. It can drive us to become passive and withdrawn from life. It can cause us to become controlling and always trying to force a happy outcome, especially by being a pleaser. It can leave us fearful of conflicts and without the necessary potential for aggression to defend our self-esteem and stand for what we think is right. Our wounded power instinct can also drive us into a pursuit of achievement, seeking self-assurance and security in a manner that is doomed to never be enough. Ultimately, however, as I discovered, it can cause us to pause, begin to look inward, and give us the confidence to risk the inner journey.
Coming from the social group I grew up in, my pursuit of healing my sense of power and the ability to be fierce in the defense of the values of life helped me learn how to value my instinctual nature and my body. The increasingly positive power to pursue my goals, to feel at home in life and myself, opened the door to my personal authenticity and learning to be kind when kindness is warranted and aggressive when it is required. When necessary, such personal power becomes fierceness. Being fierce was not something that I was brought up to be comfortable with. It wasn’t “nice,” especially in relationships. Yet as I have learned it, it has increased my confidence in myself, clarified my vision in murky times, and made it easier to love myself and life. Most of all this kind of inner strength can give us a spirit that opens our hearts and prepares us to love. As our power is developed in a positive way it supports the growth of compassion that awakens us to the healing power of service, to our spiritual needs, and to the needs of others. Love that grows from a firm foundation, whether from our families or from our healing journeys into self-love, cultivates the knowledge within us that love in its greater sense is about service—love in action—which enlarges us and contributes to life.
In the 1960s I believe we saw power and fierceness used in what we thought of as the morally wrong and destructive ways. Examples were Vietnam, riots, burning cities, police brutality, assassinations, and poverty. In one shock after another at these events my social class tried to become anti-fierceness. Many of us, especially mothers, didn’t let their kids play with guns, play war games, and so on. Many parents didn’t want their sons to play football and risk getting hurt. Unfortunately, blindness can come to us far too easily. Trying to avoid the pain of needed confrontations, seeking easy answers that appear obvious, and being reluctant to strongly question ourselves never serves us in the long run.
Without realizing it we began to repress the positive development of the power instinct in our children that is needed to build their ability to become self-disciplined, take risks, overcome fear, endure pain, and make sacrifices to achieve worthwhile goals and to thereby become self-responsible adults. We made a fundamental error in our judgement. We failed to realize that destructive power is the reaction of someone or some groups that feel powerless. Powerlessness means we feel insignificant to other people and therefore of not much value to ourselves. In our adolescents and young adults, and in many older people, there is a widespread loss of confidence in our power to make a difference in the world surrounding us emotionally and politically. Admitting this reality to ourselves is very painful and we often try to avoid it in many angry and destructive ways.
We arrived at this place collectively by looking at the symptoms of misused power and not at the root causes of it. We have never examined the collective fear that drove us into the Vietnam War, the injustices behind the riots, and the deep shadow of hate in our society behind the assassinations. Nor have we looked at the past traumatic stress we experienced collectively. In facing our challenges with violence, we need to become love warriors determined to seek out the true cause of our society’s rage and violence, and solve or heal these problems at their root levels as we both contain and learn from the destructive uses of power.
While I am writing about our power instinct, I remember how fairy tales and legends, our age-old stories, show us the conflicts of power and the ordeals of becoming fully human. They can offer us many lessons, evolved over time to help us on our way. The legends of King Arthur have been favorites of mine since boyhood. I remember when King Arthur was standing with Merlin on the ramparts of Camelot, in T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, a lovely book written for the eternal child in everyone. As they were discussing the future, the young King Arthur had a startling insight that might must be used for right and not might makes right. “Might for right” became the motto for him and his knights. We need to remember that when we fail to be vigilant and fight for right, justice, and charity consistently, when we collectively become passive and indifferent, then evil flourishes. As a result, we will face a much more bitter fight against wrong, against injustice, against evil.
In the story, as Arthur began his kingship, he had to bring many conflicting parts of his kingdom under control and into harmony around the symbol of unity, the round table. To become a knight one had to prove himself as competent in power, in strength, in skill at arms, and in the ability to bear hardship and pain. But the future knights also had to adopt the code of chivalry, a system of courtesy and respect for others and especially for women. They were dedicated to defending against injustice, defending the poor and disadvantaged along with women and children.
Before going into battle, they were often “shriven,” meaning going into the Christian ritual of confession, usually with a monk in the forest. When they used their power, they wanted to be assured they weren’t being driven by negative or evil forces. Every year they met on Pentecost (the Christian day celebrating the day the Holy Spirit came to humankind) to renew their fellowship and vows of service to causes beyond their personal interests. Finally, to save king and country from being a wasteland, they undertook the quest for the Holy Grail in order to bring the symbols of power and spiritual passion together to renew the life of the kingdom. In our quest to become love warriors we can learn a lot from this venerable legend.
As love warriors we must also bring power and the passion of love together to transform our hearts, the heart of our society, and renew the best values of our humanity. Think about how different our world can become if we really have the support of love warriors.
I need your help getting the word out. I cannot do enough alone to revitalize the heart of our society. As always, I want to thank you for your readership and support. Just thinking of you humbles and moves me. If my words on love challenge and inspire you please share them with others you value with my warmest best wishes.
image above by ractapopulous
Articles by Drs. Bud and Massimilla Harris
, America, being human, citizenship, Elder Wisdom, fear, hope, Inspirational, life of meaning, ove, responsibility, struggles, suffering
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