Power, Love and Conflict

Adam Kahane’s new book, Power and Lover A Theory and Practice of Social Change sets out a new approach to resolving conflict, according to publishers, Berrett-Koehler.

Adam Kahane

The two main ways that people try to solve their toughest group, community and societal problems are fundamentally flawed. They either push for what they want at all costs—in it’s most extreme form this means war—or try to completely avoid conflict, sweeping problems under the rug in the name of a superficial ”peace.” But there is a better way: combining these two seemingly contradictory approaches.

Adam Kahane argues that each is a reflection of two distinct, fundamental drives: power, the single-minded desire to achieve one’s solitary purpose; and love, the drive towards unity. They are inextricable parts of human nature, so to achieve lasting change you have to able to work fluidly with both. In fact, each needs the other. As Martin Luther King put it, “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.”

Kahane presents some common scenarios in which one of these drives is used to the exclusion of the other:

a. Common Power-Only Scenario #1: We are so afraid of being hurt that we deny or cut off our love and connection to others, attacking them (and/or defending ourselves) aggressively.

Example: Have you ever walked away from a friendship or relationship that felt difficult, because this seemed easier than confronting the person and taking the risk of having to face some unpleasant revelations about yourself?”

b. Common Power-Only Scenario #2: We are so sure of the correctness of our beliefs and actions that we deny or forget that we might be wrong — and that we might be hurting others.

Example: Have you ever vigorously pushed an idea or initiative that you were certain was right, over the objections of others, only to find that ultimately it wasn’t right?

c. Common Love-Only Scenario #1: We are so afraid of hurting others that we deny or cut off our own ambition and power.

Example: Have you ever buried ideas or initiatives that were important to you, because you were worried that they might offend or upset someone you really cared about?

d. Common Love-Only Scenario #2: We are so uneasy with or lacking in confidence in our own power that we pretend we have none — and so flail about timidly and unconsciously.

Example: Have you ever found yourself manipulating other people towards your own motives because you aren’t willing to step up to say what you want and what you are willing to do to get it?

e. Common Love-Only Scenario #3: We are so determined to keep our situation polite or high-minded or whole that we suppress self-expression, dissent, and conflict–and thereby making our situation unhealthy and un-whole.

Have you ever swept problems in a group under the carpet or ignored them in order to keep the group intact, only to find these problems coming back bigger and more destructive?

In each of these scenarios, it’s argued that a more helpful response would have been to apply both drives, power and love.

The publisher’s website promises to have an excerpt of the book soon.

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