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by David Truman

Help! In the good name of empowerment, they've had us fighting like two year olds for power and space. Many personal power techniques are ducky in theory, but yucky in practice. Let's escape the madness, and seek higher ground.
Since a lot of people feel a need for more strength and toughness, many therapeutic offerings teach personal power skills: how to speak up; how to assert will; and how to set limits. These can be good skills, valuable achievements. However, no matter what technique is employed, playing with personal power is playing with fire. Constructively used and carefully controlled, fire can provide warmth, cook food, clear out dead wood. But at the same time, if fire is carelessly handled, people get burned. So, along with learning to increase our power, we need to learn to use it positively and control it carefully. Many therapists and support groups don't teach that.
As a result of this omission, we see power struggles all around: in rocky love affairs, in sorrowful relationships, and in places of work. Using modern power techniques, millions of well-intentioned people have developed habits of thought and behavior that threaten the harmony and stability of human relationships. In truth, these struggles represent power abuse on a massive scale. Maybe growth teachers run out of time before they can impart the necessary cautions, but all power techniques require deep understanding, artful use, and fine tuning to be truly beneficial.
Personal power use and abuse
Intimacy can be not only challenging but also profoundly reassuring. Have you ever suffered a problem for a long time, only to find relief when you finally talked to somebody about it? God uses our friends to convey His "stamp of approval."
We can point the way to higher ground by correcting a few power myths:
1. There is no such thing as powerlessness. The notion of powerlessness has been over-sold and over-believed. Everyone has plenty of power. Sure, other people affect us, but we affect them too. And we certainly affect ourselves mightily.
One of the most awesome demonstrations of a man's power lies in his ability to convince himself that he is powerless. Do not struggle to gain power when you are denying the power you already HAVE. Instead, admit that you are powerful.
2. ALL humans have the potential to abuse power. We tend to associate power abuse with LARGE SCALE POWER USERS: people who have authority and control over others, people who have political power, etc. But actually, ANYONE can misuse power. Your little angel can return from the personal power course as a little Hitler. It's called COMPENSATING.
3. Negative assertion does not insure a better life. Rushing to increase personal power is rarely healthy or beneficial. Blind with excitement, people sadly misuse the first little bit of "conscious power" they get a hold of! Fresh graduates of "assertiveness training" courses often destroy their intimacies and alienate their friends right away. Maybe those relationships were doomed anyway, but maybe not.
In the growth movement, assertion is associated with self-protection more than with love. Consequently, people tend to overplay negative forms of assertion. In making honest statements that are negative or self-protective in intent, people often throw their relationships and their emotions out of balance. Clearly, the utility of negative assertion is limited where the heart is concerned. We can protect the quality of life by watching the quality of assertion.
Granted, in any kind of learning, people have to make mistakes to learn their lessons, and personal power is no exception to the rule. But it is only intelligent to try to control the cost of our mistakes. Personal power may sound glorious, but let us admit that it is easily misused, and can be destructive. THEN we can steer a safe course.
Before you sign up for any "power-enhancing" processes
1. Don't let growth professionals sell you THEIR goals; only choose processes that further YOUR (true) goals. For example, most people want love in their lives. If you want love in your life, see if a growth "skill" really supports relationship harmony (in practice, not just in theory).
2. Don't just ask what a process IS, see where it LEADS. Examine the ability of that particular process to move you in a desirable direction. Ask: "Many people have used your method or acquired your skill. Has it helped their relationships, or hurt them?" Then look at the proponents of the process: Would you MARRY someone like that?
3. Don't learn any social "skill" superficially. A skill becomes useful only when you can do it well. Learn how to increase personal power without lowering social sensibilities -- or damaging "companionability." Hardest to safely apply are techniques of self-protection, accountability, authenticity, and the like. If someone says they will teach you how to assert yourself in two hours, just chuckle inside and walk away.
Drink from the fountain of real strength
Assertiveness and power are indeed qualities of truly strong and secure people. But ACTING strong is easier than BEING strong. Also, people who are desperate for power misuse it the most. In the rush to power, virtues quickly become vices.
No amount of willful behavior, limit-setting, or negative assertion makes you a strong person (much less a good lover, or a compassionate individual). Remember that real strength, the kind worth having, comes from high ethics. A truly strong person is more concerned for the common good than for self-interest and self-protection. And the greatest power for good results from surrender to the higher power of God through self-discipline relative to egoic tendencies. (See Inner Guidance and Obedience.)
Stop the madness! Promote gladness! Return to the heart! Think sane thoughts! Do good works! Keep good company! Real strength grows slowly but surely, like a sturdy oak. Please tell a friend.

by David Truman

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