The Spanish word for birth, dar luz, translates as to give light. Light is a form of power. For most of my life I have searched for a unifying secret to life. In a word, the answer is power. Every atom in every cell of our body is bound together with power. Invisible waves of power bombard us and pass through us without our awareness. We eat converted solar power. We wear it. Power permeates our lives and bodies. Every relationship is about power and dominance, no matter what other reason we think it is, be it family, career, love, politics, religion, and the rest. We create laws to direct the distribution of power...consider right-of-way rules in traffic or international disputes. From petty squabbles to nuclear war--the issue is power.
In the smoothest relationships, all involved agree who is in charge, in which areas, and for how long. In the bitterest no one can agree about who is in charge. At issue is the element of respect for one’s power. The brain--from the reptilian brain to the mammalian brain--is equipped with structures to navigate the pecking orders of power. The lizard impresses the competition with push-ups. Humans impress one another with prowess, appearances, possessions, and skills valued in their social spheres and eras. Lack of power can cause no end of human suffering. Witness the plight of unwanted, powerless children around the world. Witness the exploitation of the powerless who must sell their labor, sweat, and bodies in order to eat.
When stressed to point of powerlessness, the brain's capacity for thought is fraught with disorders of the chemical messenger molecules and brain cells' communication systems. The powerless may compensate for what they lack with cunning as they learn not to trust those in power over them. In today's zeitgeist and our nation's roiling relationship with that emblem of power, the gun, killers, overwhelmed by a sense of powerlessness massacre others whose very existence speaks of privileges and joy they lack. Lack of power leads some to alcohol and other drugs to soothe the pain and fill the bleakness of their existence. We can quantify the pain by the volume of prescribed or bootlegged drugs and the amount of alcohol consumed in the U.S. alone.
We cannot escape power. Nor should we. Without the power dynamic we could not have plays, movies, literature. We could not develop loving attachments or enjoyable careers. We can learn to shape power to bring us opportunities for living in wonder of all that surrounds us. We can free ourselves of the urge to overwhelm, enslave, steal, maim, or annihilate.
In Power- A Memoir, the author, a nurse who has worked and taught in mental health settings, including locked intensive care psychiatric units, shows how power works, how we can appreciate and even enjoy power in healthy relationships. As an emerita faculty of San Diego State University, Leilani Grajeda-Higley has taught writing and literature classes that explore the prevention of violence.