On Seeing Reflections

One of the telltale signs of maturity is how one handles control. An experience I had recently drove this home for me. Without names or context, someone several years younger than me responded to a power struggle (not with me) in a way that reminded me of similar struggles I’ve been through. They demanded that things be a certain way, implied that they knew best, and disregarded outside opinions. It was at once a harsh reminder, a flashback, and a wakeup call that I’ve grown a lot.

Power is a funny thing. I spent a while trying to figure out a way to define it, until I realized that definitions themselves contain power. The ability to communicate an idea, and the ability to control how you communicate, how you frame a concept, it turns out is very freeing. We (humans) seem to be very territorial over this. When we have an idea of the way things work, the way things are “supposed” to be, there’s a sense of self that is violated when our idea is challenged. That violation is scary. It often feels like it doesn’t belong. And if we can push away that sense, by pushing away the thing that doesn’t belong, it reinforces the feeling that *we* belong.

Maybe this is why people are so apt to defend themselves in a power conflict, rather than to sit back and listen. If communication is about interpretation relationships, what does it say when communication is simply telling someone else what to do, and not listening to them? It’s almost a fight for survival, for the comfort that we are right. If that’s the case, are power struggles symptomatic of deep insecurities, in a world where we always need to be right, the best, or number one?

I think there’s a real danger in linking competition to power struggles to the extend that you can “win” or “lose.” Competition is useful when each party learns from each other, although it does need a balance with cooperation. But if you “lose”, who has actually lost? What have you lost? Who created that frame in the first place? What was the trophy to win, why was it valuable? And so on.


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