I’ve been reflecting on my experience in a session I co-hosted and the connection with philosopher Paul Tillich’s concept of power and love:
- Power: The drive of everything living to realize itself, with increasing intensity, to achieve one’s purpose and grow. It isn’t “power over” but about achieving “the whole in itself”.
- Love: The drive to unite the separated, to recognize and make whole, with a focus on relationship and connection. It is unity of the larger whole.
Adam Kahane describes power and love not as an either/or, but a polarity or dilemma, and the way through is by cycling between them. Like walking – moving one foot then the other – they are never in static balance. And it is also fractal – there is the “whole in itself” and at the same time, the whole is “part of a larger whole” that reveals and enacts a similar pattern.
The session involved a group of 40 people from different associations and organizations around the world, who have been coming together as a network to foster change. Being a network has meant a shift in how work and decision making occurs. This excerpt from Net Gains: A Handbook for Network Builders Seeking Social Change describe these shifts: “It is not unusual for the members of a new network to assume that everyone in the network has to do everything and agree on everything, that ‘marching in lockstep’ is what network members do. What makes networks unique is this: the individual people who are linked in a network relationship have both a high degree of freedom and agreement when it comes to deciding what to do.”
For the network I was working with, it wasn’t about everyone agreeing with every action. It was about bringing invitations and proposals forward, reflecting more deeply together when needed, and then moving forward, where people have the choice to support or not. And it is about striving to be in relationship with each other while in their practices of unity, diversity and choice. As my friend and colleague Tenneson Woolf says, “networks are constant bodies of becoming”.
During the session a proposal came forward on how to approach a portion of their agenda in a way that attempted to address some core, underlying issues of inequality. There were both positive and negative initial responses to the proposal, and given the mixed reaction and the strong energy that bubbled up we hosted a round of talking piece council for each person to have the opportunity to share their perspective and questions about the proposal. After a second talking piece round, where people spoke out any shifts they experienced since the first round, we took a temperature check to gauge the level of support for the proposal. Well over 80% of the group supported the proposal at that moment. Only one or two were against it and a few more were ‘in-between’.
Back to power and love – individual realization and the drive for unity.
Some were very happy that the proposal had such significant support (the seeking of individual realization – yes I am “a part”, but I’m also “a whole”, and that was shared across many in the group). Some were disappointed that the group hadn’t worked to amend the proposal to better meet the needs of the small, disagreeing minority (a different facet of individual realization – more about maintaining their individual realization and privilege). And some felt a sadness, as although they had worked been working hard for the principles of equality of the proposal, unity had not been achieved.
For many, this was a pivotal moment of the gathering.
Could the ones in disagreement claim their freedom and responsibility of choice?
Could the others live with the fact that some would not be happy with the action taken from the proposal?
Together, could they stay in relationship, even in disagreement? What would it take to stay in relationship, even in disagreement?
I witnessed the deliberation of some making the choice to step out and how to communicate it with grace.
I witnessed the struggle of wanting to create better equality but not achieving unity.
I witnessed prototyping approaches of how to work through these action and decisions together in a networked way.
I witnessed powerful personal learning and shifts.
It held lessons – as questions – for me as well.
Where in my life is it difficult for me to my claim my freedom and responsibility of choice, with others or even inside myself?
Where it is challenging for me to live with other’s disappointment in my actions?
What can I do to ease the struggle to stay in relationship with those I disagree with?
What rich learning. May we offer and receive compassion and grace as we learn our way forward through this polarity of power and love.