“An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
The slippery slide towards being a bully.
As the saying goes, “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.’
It’s a fascinating thing to watch how some people react when they acquire power. A meek and humble person, once tasting power, start behaving like a bully. They become obsessed with holding the new power have. They become driven to gain more power.
Once quiet, gentle, and maybe submissive the new power welder starts exercising their power over people. They become blind to the people around them as they now impose their will on others. Friend now become objects, and relationships become networks to increase and spread the power that now available. The mind becomes focused on winning at all cost.
I can be blamed for falling into that trap early in my life. I’ve tasted power and felt it transformed me into a bully. People call it “Angry Keven.” It is a tough urge to control, but I learned my lesson.
Power is the ability to get things done, and once we have power we discover that we can shape the world around us. We can make things happen. However, we fall into the bully trap when we want to shape the world into our own image. When we want to make the world to become what we always wanted it to be so we get what we want. Even if it means stepping on people we claim to love.
This is part of our psychology from being the apex predator species on the planet
We have a unique evolutionary history. Our ability to use the power of a predator was limited until recently. Most predatory animals evolve over millions of years into the powerful creatures they become. It takes that long to develop the physical, mental and behavioral processes to develop the techniques to overpower another life as a survival strategy. All of these processes have to work together to be an effective killing machine.
Humans, on the other hand, skipped the long evolutionary process that develops the physical, mental and behavioral aspects to become a predator. It wasn’t long ago — many a few hundred thousand years– when we were just as likely to be eaten by a predictor, as we were to kill our own game. And only a few million years ago, our ancestors were scrawny apes living at the edge of the forest and savanna, just beginning to acquire the ability to walk upright and learning to live in new environments. We were more prey than a threat to the world around us.
Then we acquired our extraordinary mental abilities, developed language, and the ability to transform the world through technology. This gave us the ability to organize into larger social groups, and since there is strength in numbers, we were able to offset our individual weakness into the formative predators that can now destroy the world with a push of a button.
We made this transition from prey to predator in a relatively short period of time, and it is dependent on our ability to use culture, to act as social beings. Our reliance on culture transformed us into predators, but at a cost of sacrificing even more of our physical strength so that our brains could handle the task of social organization and using technology. Instead of our mental and behavioral process developing in tandem with an increase in physical power, our mental and behavioral processes developed in strength while our individual physical powers diminished.
This is unlike how other predators have evolved, with their minds evolving to support their strength and developing the behavior necessary to be successful hunters. Instead, our mental powers offset our physical weakness and compensate for it. As individuals, we are not capable of the feats that other predators have, but as a group, we are able to do amazing things. This creates a paradox, and as a result, we have a species-wide inferiority complex.
There is a part in each of us who wants to leverage the power of being a predator. We know that as a species we have the power within us. We have a history that shows us that. We are attracted to tales that speak about the strength of warriors, we become consumed about news stories that detail the predator side of our nature. When we watch nature documentaries, we are not satisfied with watch ungulates eating grass for an hour, we want to watch them being eaten by a lion.
In our minds, predators control, instead of being controlled. Having control means security, it means getting what we desire. It means not wanting, instead, it means having and taking. Roar!
This urge has been finely honed in Western Culture, and so it is woven into the fabric of our culture. Successful salespeople are called hunters, Wall Street wants to dominate the market, and being a man means being able to knock someone face into the ground. We glorify power in the name of progress, advancement, and honor people who seem to possess the greatest amount of this power. This tendency to become a bully is based on how we have been taught to perceive power.
But is there only one type of power?
The power represented by the predator?
Can we exercise power that feeds the good wolf? The wolf that embodies joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.
“Human nature is complex. Even if we do have inclinations toward violence, we also have inclination to empathy, to cooperation, to self-control.” Steven Pinker
The two powers.
A lesson I have learned in my life is that there are two forms of power that we humans can exercise. I will write about this in other posts since its central to my thinking and I think that it is important for us to know the difference.
There are many different names for these two powers, but I prefer to call one Power-Over and the other Power-With.
The Power-Over perspective is easy to recognize when we accept the idea that there is something greater and have more power than us. When this powerful thing is above and beyond our ability to control. This could be a deity, a government, or it could a person in our lives.
When we live from the perspective of Power-Over, we see power as a commodity. There are limited quantities, and only so much to go around. As a result, Power-Over plays a zero-sum game. As one gains power, another one loses power.
Finite resources typically ignite the fires of Power-Over. It kicks our ego into overdrive, and we become focused on hoarding, devouring and controlling limited supplies. Our focus is zeroed on grabbing the resources and protect them as best that we can. Much like a wolf protecting its kill.
Power-Over is based on a hierarchy, the power flows from the top down. You are either the one in control or the one being controlled.
Power-Over is necessary sometimes, but I think that it is overemphasized in our modern culture. As I mentioned earlier, our media seems to focus on Power-Over (good or bad) to the point that gives a false impression that it the major form of power in our society, or that it is the only type of power that exists. But, I think that this is more myth than reality. And that its excessive coverage is due to it being the exception more than the rule.
The bad wolf catches our attention more than the good wolf.
Advertisers also tend to focus on Power-Over because of its relationship to finite resources. And convincing us we that we are “powerless” is a great motivator to get us to buy what they are offering.
However, the story of our evolutionary history tells a different tale. As I have already mentioned it is our social nature which took us from being prey to predator. It is our ability to work in increasing numbers that tipped the balance. Our true power comes from working as a group.
Our ability to work in groups dictates a different type of power, one of cooperation. If Power-Over was our dominate power, then we would behave in a different manner than we do. We would lack the trust needed to form stable teams. We spend most of our time watching our backs, instead of focusing on getting things done. We would prefer to live alone, verses in groups.
Power-With has shaped our evolutionary history longer than the conditions that created our apex predator abilities. Instead of seeing power as unidirectional, limited and coming from the top down, Power-With sees power as something that is built from increasing our ties to others and utilizing and combines the unique ability the individuals have. Instead of being unidirectional it is a power that comes from cooperation. It fosters teams, instead of subjects.
And it is a power based on abundance, not scarcity.
With The Power-With perspective, power is understood to increase when shared with other things. Thus, working together increases our power.
When using the Power-With perspective, it is hard to rationalize the behavior of a bully. A bully tries to manipulate, push and beat other people into submission, and by doing so a bully destroys the actual power base that we rely on.
So with the Power-With perspective bullying behavior is discouraged and protects itself from it. Bullies, acting as a predator, like to separate their prey before they try to attack and consume it. But we know that a strong and healthy group would not let any member be chased away from its power base, from its tribe.
When a healthy group stands firm and together confronts a bully, and calls them out for what they are, the bully has a tendency to back off, and go looking elsewhere. There is indeed strength in numbers. This understanding is encoded in our genes.
Like the Cherokee story, most of our spiritual traditions provide us with teachings that point to the value of the Power-With perspective and states that this power is what makes us better people. For thousands of years, as we began using the two powers, spiritually enlighten people understood the problems that Power-Over caused, and the gifts that Power-With provides and our need to learn which power to use. How we use power determines our higher aspirations.
Each of us has a choice. Which wolf do you want to feed?
Our survival depends on it.