What is Power?


Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.

Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.

There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We were born to manifest the glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us; it’s in Everyone!

And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others!

(Nelson Mandela – inaugural speech 1994, quoting Marianne Williamson)


According to the New Gem Dictionary (London: Collins), power stands for “the ability to do or act” and for “authority”.

We also talk about horsepower and refer to electricity as power. Power is being used in mathematics, physics and mechanics.

On the other hand, it can also be understood as “the possession of control or command over others” (Budget Macquarie Dictionary, Sydney), like in a hierarchical constellation or as description for “military and naval force”.

Therefore, for some people, power is a dirty word. It reminds of repression, oppression or suppression. Pressure is applied to keep people or information from coming forth, from standing up. It is a one way form of instruction, of telling someone what to do. I see the picture of a marionette, where someone holds the strings.

When Nelson Mandela spoke about power, he obviously meant something different. He meant personal power which leads to us standing in our strength. It is the empowering aspect of power.

Empower stands for “to give power or authority to; authorise” (ibid.). So personal empowerment is the process where we claim our authority, become the “author” of our lives, which is different from a victim stance. We develop the ability to act rather than merely react. We become responsible for our lives rather than just drift and let others tell us what to do.

In this light, power is a good word, one that supports self-realisation, to bring forth our potential, to let our light shine.


Many problems of our times, violence, crime, homicide, suicide can be related to power. They can be seen as reactions to feeling powerless. Only someone who feels powerless will resort to violence. A violent act is a reaction to a feeling of weakness. It comes from the urge to inflict onto others what we feel inside. A person who is violent is not powerful in the sense of personal power, but merely reactive, a victim of their lack of self-control. People also can be violent in exercising what they have been commanded to do. Again personal power is missing.

Erich Fromm coined the term “authoritarian character”, when examining the psychological disposition of perpetrators of war crimes and atrocities to minority groups in Nazi Germany. An authoritarian character describes a person with low self-esteem who needs to identify with an authority in order to feel powerful. They become like marionettes in the hands of demagogues and dictators.

The best remedy to a violent society or one of mindless subordinates is for people to be empowered to think, feel and act for themselves. We need mature, self-responsible people for a cooperative society to function. The more people realise their personal power, the more we can achieve a harmonious coexistence.


Here I want to share some concrete steps of personal empowerment on an intra-personal, interpersonal and time level.

We tend to dis-empower ourselves by giving ourselves a hard time. Just observe your self-talk. What do you tell yourself? Is it uplifting or down-putting? Whatever it is you tell yourself, you can be sure that it has an impact on you. Therefore it is useful to self-examine and notice what type of internal relationship you have within yourself. It is personal empowering if you can be supportive of yourself, be “on your side”, be in tune and accepting of yourself unconditionally, be at one with yourself.

We are most powerful on an interpersonal level, when we manage to apply compassionate communication (see June 2003 Newsletter). The more I connect with my true feelings and needs, dare to be vulnerable and share myself with another directly, the more empowered I will be. Rather than losing my power by wanting someone else to be different and acting outside of my “circle of influence” (Stephen Covey), I acknowledge the impact another person’s action has on me and speak from a place of authority, my own experience. I can be active, not reactive.

The third level, where we can empower ourselves relates to time. We can easily spend time and think about the past with regrets, “if only”, or think about the future. Both times we feel powerless. There is nothing I can do about the past, neither have I control about what the future brings. The only power is in the “Now” (see also: Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now).

Being in touch with myself, sharing my truth openly and directly in the present moment is a way of personal empowerment.


There are basically 2 ways of relating, and both have their purpose. For the sake of clarity I want to describe them as horizontal and vertical. We find evidence for both directions in nature. Together they form a cross.

To relate in a vertical way is determined by above and below. As symbol in nature, look at a tree trunk. There is a clear top and bottom. In human relationships, it is reflected in hierarchies and characterised by dependencies. The one above tells the one below what to do. One leads, the other follows.

I want to describe 2 examples that operate in a vertical way of relating.

There is a father who holds a child by the hand, preventing it from running onto the street and endangering its life. This clearly limits the child’s freedom. The child is dependent on the adult, yet also the father is not free. While being in a position of power in making decisions for the child, e.g. when and where to cross the road, the father’s freedom is limited due to his task of leading the child, caring for the child. This reminds me of the old Chinese saying that a good leader is a servant to his people (see I Ging).

The second example is the one of 2 rock climbers, where one takes the lead and both are connected through a rope. While one is leading and the other following, both depend on each other. The lower one secures the leader in case that he should slip and fall. If both are similarly experienced climbers they can take turns in leading, which already points into the direction of the second way of relating.

Relating on a horizontal level means side by side. No one has power over the other, both stand in their own personal power next to each other and there is a high degree of independence and personal freedom. This is the level of partnership and mutuality. It has its advantages in intimate relationships as well as in business partnerships, all co-working situations, and communities, where power and responsibility is shared.

When relating on a horizontal level with each other, there is room for 2 realities standing side by side, 2 positions, 2 opinions, 2 sets of needs that are equally valid and important.

The picture is walking side by side, where both are leading and following. It requires a larger vision, one where I can be myself, hold on to myself AND am open for you. Your wellbeing is as important as mine, since I am aware that even though we are separate individuals, essentially we are connected. The success of our joint task (marriage, organisation, programme) depends on both our wellbeing. It’s the typical win-win situation. I can only win when you win too.

On this level of relating, any form of competition gets in the way.

The horizontal way of relating can be described in terms of ‘as-well-as’, while the vertical way is a more definite yes or no, either/or.

A horizontal way of relating provides a wider perspective. It is the way of love and trust. It requires maturity and is a reflection of the time of the consciousness soul (Rudolf Steiner, see also “Consciousness”, in Partners in Dialogue, e-mail newsletter March 2003). We are all asked to become our own self-responsible individual. There is no space for blame, as we carry responsibility for our own reality.

A horizontal way of relating is expressed in consensus decisions where everyone’s opinion matters and needs to be considered. It is not always practical to be inclusive in this way all the time. An organisation/group cannot function if you want consensus decision about every little step. There is a place for delegation and to accept power difference that is based on competency.

Picture this, a couple that relates horizontally, both in their power and equally strong, want to go somewhere by car. Would you give both of them a steering wheel, gas and brake pedals? It just won’t work. There are times when we need to accept a vertical relationship structure, the fact that at times there are dependencies. The person sitting next to the driver depends on the driver.

Yet, as we stated earlier, the leader is also dependent on the follower. Therefore it is an advantage for a good functioning relationship to support the leader by encouragement, giving feedback and by trust.

There is place for both ways of relating. It is helpful to know the difference and to understand when and where which form of relating is appropriate.

If you look at the human body, you can also see both ways of relating. The vertical direction is represented in the trunk, where the head sits on top of the torso. It relates to the head-gut relationship. While the head can make decisions for the body to follow, if we want to function well, we also need to listen to our body, to our gut, our feeling, our inner knowing and sensing.

The horizontal way of relating is represented by both arms and hands. They work with each other side by side.

Rudolf Jarosewitsch


Copyright © 9/2003 by Rumijabu | Originally published in “Partners in Dialogue” September 2003

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