The definition of power here is simply the ability to generate effects in the world. This definition covers both our human relationships as well as our relationships to nature – to all the diverse realities, situations, objects, life forms, and systems we deal with.
This model of power is an attempt to include and organize higher-order power categories, not necessarily specific forms of power. The model is and always will be incomplete of course. It is intended to stimulate challenges and explorations that could make it increasingly comprehensive and useful.
A theory of co-intelligent power – or power appropriate for a wise democracy – would find a place for all the modes of power described here. All of them have potential bright sides and dark sides. Even the most toxic forms of power have evolutionary functions, if only to evoke healing or transformational energies in response.
We who seek to understand and exercise co-intelligent power – or power for a wise democracy – face two related challenges. We must constantly seek to (1) understand the nature of power that arises from and serves the whole (our fundamental inquiry about power) and (2) we must realize that to the extent a form or exercise of power does not embrace – or actively counters – certain entities, energies, or aspects involved in a situation – i.e., to the extent it does not take into account “the whole” – it will likely generate unwanted consequences or energetic residues that will likely “demand” to be addressed – if not here and now, then in some other time or place.
For this reason, power-over can easily be considered more toxic than other forms of power. But both power-over and power-with offer different forms of efficiency. The efficiency of power-over tends to be more immediate, while the efficiency of power-with tends to be more long-term.
The co-intelligent approach seeks to transcend this trade-off. It seeks to minimize power-over while maximizing – and mastering the practice of – collective power, power-from-within, and power-from-without in ways that have both short-term and long-term efficiency. This efficiency is exemplified perhaps by Aikido masters who seek to disable their opponents’ harmful energy by moving with that energy, leaving little if any residue of stuck or conflicted energy behind.
However, life’s demands often seem to necessitate the exercise of power-over – especially in urgent situations – so students of co-intelligent power exercise power-over as elegantly as they can and learn from the resulting experience. A key factor in making power-over less toxic is the feedback loop generated by conscious active consent – people’s mindful delegation of power-over to a chosen (and usually specially qualified) person or group for a specified purpose and time, authority that – if abused – can be withdrawn by those over whom it is exercised. The consent factor introduces an element of power-with which reduces the likelihood of resistance and repression.
Now, to consider our overview of this ecosystem of power modes….