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Word of the week: Power

Posted by Simon Parke, 16 January 2023, 3.36pm

So, what is your experience of power? Perhaps it has been both good and bad. Perhaps you’ve met good power and damaged power. 

The word comes from the Latin potis meaning able, capable or possible.

It became podir in Old French, poer in Middle English (14th century) and then its present form power.

It would be cheering, if rather fanciful, if all power was able and capable – or at least able beyond the ability merely to serve itself.

We’re all familiar with this sort of egoic power; and it is dismal.

Imagine how different the work place would be, the country would be and your home would be, if power was used well.

There’d be little work for therapists, who are so often working with the abuse of power – discreet or overt – in the early years of life.

Vincent Van Gogh described himself: ‘A young sapling caught too young in the frost.’ The emotional cold is a discreet but terrible power.

Jesus knew all this instinctively and so encouraged people to allow children to come to him, because they embodied the vulnerability and innocence of the kingdom of God.

This move, which even offended his followers, was all about power - who has it and how it is used.

Children have no power - so this is where he starts. And we note he gave harsh warnings - involving necks, millstones and deep water - to those who abused their power over the vulnerable.

Or we could step away from children and into into an adult relationship and note the transactions there. The woman questions the man’s behaviour, which humiliates her again and again, and what does he say? He says, ‘That’s the way I am.’

Is that an answer? It’s certainly a lazy assertion of self-serving power.

And manipulation, silence, the sulk and physical violence can also be used to the same ends; significant weapons in the ego’s power grab.

But I come today to celebrate power as well as question it. Yes, I come in merry celebration, I am a fan of power, for power can be a glory.

The third word in our definition of the Latin word potis was possible. Those with power possess possibilities, which is exciting. 

Imagine power used well – power which makes good things possible. So many wonderful things exist in the world because of power used well down the centuries – power which holds people, frees people, strengthens people, protects people, affirms people.

You’ll have your own favourite examples of healthy power doing good. It may be a person, an action, a movement, an institution, an event or a story.

And the word possible also gives hope to those who feel themselves to be the victims of power.

Beyond victimhood – which can beset us - is the invitation to access your own power, to ally yourself with the possibilities present in your situation and see where the road leads.

In the end, people only have power if we give it to them. They exist, sure. But we also exist. We can forget this.

And as I close, I find myself humming a Paul Simon song, the haunting Silent Eyes from his ‘Still crazy after all these years’ album. (1975…showing my age.)

Worth a listen, a particular favourite of mine and here are the closing lines:

We shall all be called as witnesses, each and everyone
To stand before the eyes of God and speak what was done.

And if this is so – who can say? – but if it is, I sense we’ll speak mainly about the transactions of power on earth.

How was it for you?

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