Pattern #38


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Multi-Modal Power Card - version 1


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Multi-Modal Power

Power is the capacity to do, to create effects. Power-over is power to control. Power-with is generated by collaboration. Power-from-within is spirit, character, discipline, focus. Power-from-among arises from collective interaction. Power-through is wise use of resources. They are all powerful, so empower and synergize them all.

Related: 14 Context Awareness, 29 Generative Interactions, 32 Integrity and Authenticity, 48 Prudent Use of Power-Over, 62 Universal Intelligence, 64 Using Diversity and Disturbance Creatively, 66 Well-Utilized Life Energy

Going Deeper …

This is an edited version of the video on this page.

The generic definition of power is the capacity to create effects. If you are powerful you can create a lot of effects, lots of things. If you are not powerful you can’t. That is the basic underlying definition, and there are different modes of doing that.

There are phrases to distinguish different kinds of power. Some people use the term “power-to” to refer to the basic capacity to do. I just leave it as power, because it is so basic. And if you exercise power by controlling things, that’s “power-over” and that can get into domination and manipulation. There is a funny way in which power-over leads into “power-with”, which is generated by collaboration.

Most people think, “we are working together”, and that’s all nice and that’s definitely a big and positive part of what’s going on with “power-with”.  But there’s also another aspect when people are being controlled, that they are cooperating with that control. That is one of Gandhi’s gifts of insight, which is that the people in India were basically cooperating with their oppressors and Gandhi was saying, “Hey, just stop cooperating and the oppression will basically be disempowered.”

He did it strategically and it was very powerful. He developed a power over the British colonial oppressors because they could not effectively use their efforts to control. Putting people in jail and clubbing them over their heads didn’t produce the results that those actions were designed for. So this gives us an insight about the power of withdrawing our cooperative power in order to stop collaborating with whatever domination we’re experiencing.

But most of all power-with refers to people working together – barn-raising, teamwork, that sort of collaborative activity.

Power-from-within refers to something else. There’s a sense that somebody can be more powerful than somebody else simply because they have Presence! – they generate a sense of “they’re really there!” – they know what they’re about, they know what they’re doing. They have strong purpose, they’re focused, they’re disciplined, there is a sense of this laser quality to their being.

People can be guided by or called to a vocation.  They actually feel like they have been called to do something. I was called to work on this co-intelligence project. It’s like there’s a power that comes from within or through me to work on all these ideas and visions. I get some clarity, and all the work I put in looks like discipline from the outside, but it is just focus, it is a drive from inside.  That’s another example of power-from-within.

The group can have that too. The group has a strong purpose, and is willing to do whatever it takes to fulfill their purpose. That’s power-from-within, which is very powerful compared to a group sort of flailing.

Power-from-among is another phenomenon altogether.  This is people talking together, people interacting well, supporting each other, and the ability of a group or community to generate new energies and new ways of doing things by the way they interact together. A lot of conversational modalities support power-from-among. It is similar to power-from-within at a group level, but power-from-within doesn’t have to have conversation. You can have some powerful leader that inspires everybody and everybody is aligned to go in one direction, that’s the group’s power-from-within.  It can be generated by the leader – a form of power-over and/or power-with – or it can be generated by quality conversation among the members of the group, in which case the power-from-within arises from power-from-among.

So these overlap.  For example, power-from-within and power-from-among can help you have power-over a situation. Power-with can also be collaborative, you’re collaborating with nature, you’re collaborating with the forces that are there in the situation. The Aikido master is using power-with, collaborating with the energies of his opponent, flowing with them, defeating the opponent by flowing with their energies rather fighting against them. There’s lots of dimensions to these.

Power-through is wise use of resources – power-through money, power-through information, etc. This is a less commonly articulated form of power, but you have power because you have these resources and you use them well. And if you use them wastefully or sloppily you don’t have as much power-through.

Many people who support co-intelligence or think in terms of collaborative approaches think we should get rid of power-over, we should replace power-over with power-with. But that is too narrow a view.  If you want to lift a spoon, you’re going to be using power-over with the spoon. There is a place for power-over, and there are precautions which are covered in other patterns to minimize the toxicity that can often accompany power-over.

You basically want to optimize all of these powers and synergize them all, to have them all woven into one coherent form of power – applied variously depending on the circumstances – which I call multimodal power, which is extremely powerful, but has few toxic impacts.

Video Introduction (11 min)

Examples and Resources

  • Nonviolence
    Gene Sharp’s Albert Einstein Institute. Link
  • Healthy Power Alliance Link
  • Modes of Power  Link
  • Circle Forward’s Consent approach – Link
  • Wholesome Power  Link

Nonviolence theoretician Gene Sharp is a Harvard historian who has studied nonviolence throughout history.

An interesting, challenging, and often dark-side example of multi-modal power is the dynamic through which manipulation becomes a bridge between power-over and power-with. When you manipulate people through PR, marketing, advertising, etc., you are using their own impulses and habits to get them to do what you want. You are working with their deep urges to exert power over them.  You use the sexy lady to sell the car, because both men and women to a certain degree will be influenced by that image even though it has nothing to do with the car. But it’s a way to manipulate people. Or you will frame taxes as a burden to get people to not want to pay their taxes because they don’t want a burden. That is the conservative approach. The liberal approach is to say that taxes are the dues we pay for being part of a civilization. They’re framing it another way to get people to be more willing to pay taxes.

Such different framings are being used by different sides of an argument.  They are manipulating people with imagery and words which is a form of power-over. But it’s also a form of moving-with, of power-with. It is like an Aikido move with people’s minds, such that people don’t protest.  In fact, they may not even realize it’s happening. A global application of this are the neoliberal strategies described in the book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” by John Perkins.  It is about a guy – Perkins himself – who went around convincing developing countries to do major development projects using businesses from the developed world, and getting them to borrow money from financial institutions in the developed world, and to go into debt to develop their country. And then anybody, who didn’t go along with the program, would be deposed in a coup or a revolution (we’re watching that happening in Venezuela right now). Perkins quit that work and got trained as a shaman and now trains other people as shamanic practitioners.  It is quite a reversal of roles!

So what Perkins describes is, oddly enough, using a whole system, and all the different forms of power, to get his (i.e., the developed world’s) way. The basic background of it, though, is power-over. That contrasts with the basic background of nonviolence, which is power-with and power-from-within.

In the background material for this pattern language, the different approaches to power and their methods could be described somewhat. But usually most methodologies I’m aware of start with one of these forms of power and just focus on it. There are very few people or groups who have actually looked at multimodal modal power as  whole. I don’t know if we want to say, “Here’s a resource for power-over, here’s a resource for power-with, etc.” The whole point of this is to integrate them, to see how they fit together.  So we need a lot of experimenting and collective learning to make the most of this pattern.

Can you think of other examples?

(After my interview on this, I learned of Circle Forward, whose approach to decision-making and developing shared orientation they call Consent which combines power-with, power-from-within, power-from-among, and power-over in a very brilliant way.)