Adult power relations are immensely interesting human phenomena.
Oprah has power only because her audience allow her that power. Similarly, a person can be randomly assigned a power postion--as in the cookie experiment--but cannot be randomly assigned to hold power. Nominating a person to a power position does not automatically confer power on that person. The person can only gain power when the second party to the interaction acknowledges the nominated leader as a leader. Withholding that acknowledgement does not prevent the 'leader' from acting like an arsehole, the notion of power can corrupt, but the leader has no power until his authority is accepted and acknowledged by those he wishes to wield power over.
Power is an artifact of human interaction, is always inter-relational between two parties and requires two willing participants--the power holder and the one who acknowledges the greater power, strength, superiority of the power-holder.
There are nominated persons of power in all societies and cultures, the military, policemen, teachers, politicians etc--but they all hold power by vitue of the mass acceptance of the idea of power that we allow them. (The weapons on open display help too but in reality power is always a function of the relation between two people, not more.)
In reality power is endlessly shifting, unless we allow the idea of power to become immovably entrenched in our idea of the other person.
There is a childhood game that we all played that illustrates this, we called it "rock, paper, scissors"
Two children each hide one hand behind theirs backs and form the shape of one of the rock, paper or scissors. The rock can smash the scissors, the paper enfold the rock and the scissors cut the paper. The game is endless and circular with first one child then the other in the winning position. If there were only two options winning would be easy every time. It is the introduction of the third that allows the win to be up for grabs each time.
Coming from a background of very skewed and dysfunctional power relations, as I did and as all those who have been ensnared in cults have experienced, I had forgotten this game until a Korean friend, who called it something else, showed it to me again. It exists as a childhood game in every culture.
At the time I was grappling with the notion of interpersonal power and totally unable to grasp the shifting nature of power between two people, because I had never seen it demonstrated in real life. The cultural milieu dictates that we accept the trappings of power--authority, weapons, wealth--as the reality of power but this is false.
Playing that childhood game again allowed me to see the reality of power differently.
Where this is relevant to those who have cult experience is the undeniable truth that a 'leader' remains a nobody until one
person acknowledges and accepts that leaders power. Withdraw the acknowledgement and acceptance and any power that the leader held dissipates.
There was a short TED film recently that extols leadership but it also illustrates my point about the ephemeral nature of power and can be used to show the dynamics of cult formation:
Knowing this stuff as an idea is worthless, seeing it in action around us and playing with the potentialities of the concepts is essential.
Oprah can be lauded as a leader and opinion-former by millions and benefit enormously in a financial sense, but if I don't watch her programme or buy into her opinions, she has no power over me at all.
Oprah also has vulnerabilities and can be toppled from her position of power--- rock, paper, scissors.
Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 08/18/2010 04:47PM by Stoic.