or, Why can’t you and I both be powerful?!
Actually, before I launch into the post proper I have to confess that I am a little obsessed with the concept of power. Not necessarily having it myself and exerting it over other people, more the way it works, and largely, making sure that people do not wrongly assert power over me! Yes, in my pursuit of God, a large part of that is about feeling powerful – powerful over my own circumstances, my own habits, feeling powerful about making decisions for the future.
So now with that set in place, back to the blog post! This is the issue: I don’t understand why in a relationship we cannot both be powerful. I don’t understand why one party always has to assert their superior power over the other party, almost as a condition for being in that relationship. I’m not just talking about romantic relationships here. So often, in any interaction between two human beings, one party will have to make it clear that they are the boss, they are the ones going to be calling the shots. Why why why???!!!
I always walk away from these interactions. Always. In my own interactions I always bend over backwards to make sure that it does not look as if I am laying down the law – you’ve got to do this – or else! Even when candidly speaking, I know that I am overwhelmingly the more powerful one in the interaction.
So this is what I think and what I work towards: relationships, interactions between any two people are not about trying to wrestle one another for power. Sometimes people act as if any power that I have must automatically detract from their own power, so they bend over backwards to not act in a way that could be empowering at all. These are the kind of people who unceremoniously get ditched. Rather relationships are about empowering one another. I go out of my way to make other people feel powerful when I am relating to them. Because of that, people so often assume that I must feel powerless. I guess the fact that I am Black and female might unconsciously add to that assumption. However nothing could be further from the truth. It is precisely because I know the power that I have that I can afford to give it away without feeling diminished in myself.
I guess at this point it would be wise to define what I mean by power and empowering one another versus disempowering one another.
When someone wants to prove that they are the one calling the shots, when they want to assert their power in any situation, they will often just assume a position of leadership in the situation, and say “You should do this!” or “You should do that!” When you don’t know someone, specifically you do not know me, you do not know where I am coming from, I find that highly presumptuous. Or you will just have a random situation and they will just automatically take upon themselves the responsibility of giving orders. Why is this presumptuous? If you don’t know the people, for all you know there might be someone who is overwhelmingly more qualified than you are in that situation. Say someone has a medical emergency, and you don’t know that the person you are talking to is a highly qualified surgeon, and you are a simple lay person without any medical training whatsoever and you start throwing orders around. OK, so that is one situation when you are dealing with strangers.
However it is so much more frustrating when you are dealing with people that you do already know. So for instance you are just sharing something casually in passing, and they are already instructing you in how you should behave, what you should do, what you should not do. They never let pass an opportunity to assert their leadership and to tell you what to do. Once there was a man who was giving me unsolicited advice about my Bible blog. He would never acknowledge that there was anything good about it. He never indicated that there was anything on the blog that he may have learned from. He was apparently one of those people who thinks that being the leader means that you never have anything to learn from people you are leading, and you must demonstrate your superiority over them at every turn and in everything, to validate your position of leadership. (I used to be one of those people too – “he should be better at me at everything, if I am going to have to submit to him! But that is because I sincerely did not get it and I have been struggling very very hard to get it.) So he would tell me what was wrong with the blog. Eventually I was so angry that I just unfriended both him and his lovely wife. And you know what? These are sincerely good people, sincere good Christians. But that attitude annoys me so much and I can’t deal with it, so that was that.
So that is an attitude of asserting your own power. This, conversely, is what empowering other people looks like: actively seeking other people’s input, allowing people to make decisions about significant things, giving other people’s ideas your full support (even if you secretly dislike their ideas!) This makes people feel as if they have a real say and influence in whatever it is. This is how you let people know that they are not insignificant, and it helps people to take themselves seriously, if they know that other people are going to take them seriously.
This is what I want to be like with my husband. I want to honour him to such an extent that everyone knows that this is my husband. I want to elevate his opinion in my life so that everyone knows that after God, my husband’s opinion comes next – and yes that is also before my own opinion. Period. And I have strongly held opinions on pretty much everything!
And yet you know what I find extremely frustrating? When I try my hardest to empower someone and then they reciprocate by ignoring or belittling my own opinions. Seriously? Do you not understand the way this works?! Someone who acts in this way just does not get it. When someone acts in this way I instantly know that they do not understand the basic principles of Christian fellowship and interaction. Christ empowers people. Fact. Even Black women. Anyone who truly aspires to be like Christ will also aspire to empower people. Fact. And if you are not doing this, then you simply do not sufficiently understand the character of Jesus.
You see, that’s a big point of our interaction together as Christians – that we both win. If we are truly living in authentic Christian relationship, then your success is my success and my success is equally yours so I can invest every effort into helping you succeed. So you and I do not have to act as if we are competing against one another. This is true generally, but it should be most true in marriage.
Also, as a Christian I strongly believe that because God is so big, and so powerful, there is more than enough room for every last one of us humans to succeed tremendously! As I like to say, there is more than enough “God” to go around us all abundantly! So if I help you find your own success, there is still more than enough that is available for me, it is not like there is a finite amount that you and I need to be fighting over! So I can happily promote you in your own endeavours, then confidently stand forward to embrace my own success as you promote me.
So I put it forward to anyone reading this – let’s work on empowering one another. Join me in finding ways to make our significant others feel truly significant, valued and important in our lives and let us show them the respect we have for the fact that we are married to them by consciously and deliberately elevating their opinions, and revering these opinions, simply because the person who uttered them is our spouse, even when they might actually be poor opinions. But not just our spouses. Also people around us. Let us work to make people around us feel important, making it clear that we hear them, allowing them to take decisions. And then not doing it in a patronising way that seems to indicate that in the relationship we are God and we are gracious enough to permit them some crumbs of power. My personal policy is that unless I absolutely have to insist on something, I always let other people make decisions, and I go out of my way to throw my weight behind their decisions. Not because I am incapable of making decisions on these same issues myself, but rather because I know how empowering it is, so that every single person who interacts with me, feels powerful in the interaction between us.