I’ve taken a lot of character tests in my life: the Meyers-Briggs for grad school (I’m an INTJ – or at least I was in my early 20s, so who really knows), Harrison’s Paradox Graph for a leadership program (apparently I have a strength in Forthright Diplomacy), the Enneagram Test at the encouragement of a new colleague (I’m a Type 8 “wing 9” for what it’s worth). I’ve found most character tests are pretty affirming. They generally tell you good things about yourself. Most of the tests I’ve taken tell me that I have a disposition towards justice and fighting for the underdog. “Great!” I tell myself. “I belong here, working towards social justice.” But do I?
That’s where I begin to wrestle with identity and power. Because of my identity and privilege, I have a lot of power and access to power, and I feel comfortable using it. That can get messy. Acknowledging and channeling my power towards just causes seems like a good step, but I continue to think more about how I can share or even actively let go of my power. I wrestle with how, even as I may be wielding my power towards justice, I am simultaneously perpetuating injustice by continuing to hold the power. I wonder if I am fighting for the underdog, when I should be fighting with or alongside. With and not for – that has been my mantra lately.
When I think about power, I think about agency and influence. The ability to influence or make decisions. As I try to share or give up power, I wrestle with boundaries and balance. I worry about whether the road away from power might take a wrong turn towards abuse. I wonder what discomfort is telling me and when it is a good sign and when it might be a warning sign. I wonder if I give my power to someone else if that helps….or if the goal should always be to spread it out, to truly share rather than transfer. I never stand sure-footed between when to listen to marginalized voices and when to speak out. With and not for, I tell myself.
Wrestling with how to share power makes power mapping a tricky exercise. When mapping who is “with me” and “against me” on an issue on one axis and who has power and influence and who does not on another – is it a given that the person or group that is most “with me” and has the most power should act? Or, if the power is concentrated in the hands of the few and privileged, does that strategy just undermine us? If I am personally the one with the power, influence, and alignment, is it a given that I should wield it? If philanthropy is the one with the power, influence, and alignment, is it a given that we should wield it? Or should we be actively trying to move ourselves out of those power positions, to shift our influence and resources to those that are marginalized? In addition to agreement and influence, are there other important dimensions around privilege and concentration of power for those of us trying to build a just society that are important for us to imagine and consider in our strategies?
This would be a great place for me to insert a visualization. I’m thinking through it and will include in my RS what I come up with – and invite any thoughts or examples from others.