Thirst for power really is at the root of so much of what is profoundly wrong with us. We want to control everything, and history seems to suggest that we will do whatever it takes to wrestle power from others.
Every day in the prison I watch men destroy themselves and the lives of their peers and loved ones in the pursuit of power. Gaining a foothold becomes particularly important when you have been rendered powerless in the ordinary sense. Thus, the more insecure we are, the more we seek power. Men ritually cut off contact entirely with partners and children, to send the message that they are not willing to be manipulated by the dangling carrot of potential visitation rights, as long as the mother is steering the ship. Others will only attend group events if they can direct the proceedings. And nowhere else have I seen gossip and lies multiply at such rapid-fire speed (I was even at the centre of a pretty funny – and entirely fabricated – rumour myself), so that even reality itself becomes subject to the manipulation and control of certain inmates. Today I had a long conversation with a troubled chap who was attacked recently by another inmate, about his agony over how to respond. His impulse is revenge. His impulse is to save face, and more importantly, to find a response that will ward off future attacks. But in his core he is drawn to forgive, but is frightened of the consequences. Because forgiveness is to give up power and pay the cost yourself.
One the one hand, we have a responsibility to ourselves and to others to assert and protect our dignity – each other’s dignity. But how to do so without grasping at power and control – the desire to be top dog, the desire to be seen to be strong, unflappable, unperturbed? Even the desire to be cool (aren’t we sad?). What does this dignity look like?
Being a Christian, if I can be reductionist here, seems to me at this point to be largely about surrendering power. Laying aside reputation. Laying aside approval from others. Laying aside the (sometimes overwhelming) urge to put others ‘in their place’. Laying aside war and revenge and violence. Laying aside the need to be seen to be right, coherent, important, successful, attractive, credible. Laying aside the self.
This only becomes possible when we are no longer insecure, no longer self-loathing, no longer afraid. And thus there is this dichotomy at play, wherein we discover our deepest humanity at the points of deepest vulnerability and surrender. We find peace within ourselves when we give up these selfsame selves. I believe it was some sandle-wearing hippy who said that whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life, will find it. And it seems he wasn’t above that himself, either.
Oh to communicate this to my own heart, and to all the hearts broken by the need for power! What if we just…let go?