In my third act, I’ve dedicated myself to storytelling, pathfinding and peacemaking. Those who know me well know storytelling comes as natural as breathing to me. Over the years, my most rewarding work relationships have all involved some kind of pathfinding either for me or by me helping someone get where they want to go. So those two were pretty easy to amp up the attention they were getting. Peacemaking is a little different.
Yeah, I’ve always had the ancestral tie to the Mennonite Church, one of a group of historical peace churches for whom Pacifism is a central tenet of faith. I even went to Nicaragua with Witness for Peace when Regan was raising hell down there with the Contra’s. But if I’m honest with myself, being a peacemaker is not something that has soaked into my being, finding expression naturally and regularly in my daily life, like the other two. Even with the intention of being a peacemaker, I’m still struggling to understand how to make it something I actually do, actually take action on.
There are a few things I know about peace making. In this life, at least, peacemaking must take place in the presence of evil, maybe especially in the presence of evil. And one of the great challenges in confronting evil, is to not employ evil ways which only perpetuate the very thing we seek to ameliorate. This is perhaps doubly true for peace makers. I always chuckle at the exchange in Rogue One, A Star Wars Story, where one character mentions bringing lasting peace and security through a planet destroying weapon and another character responds “I think you’re confusing peace with terror.” Well, yeah. I also know that navigating that narrow passage of confrontation without perpetuation requires a careful attention to our society and culture and to how people and organizations build, maintain, and apply power.
As noted above, this isn’t a tidy conversation for me, packageable into a few pithy sound bites with a pretty bow, job done, dust off my hands and go get supper. I’ve had this running internal dialog for at least a couple of years on the nature of power in human relationships and its impacts on peacemaking. I’m only now, fairly fretfully, daring to put some of that exploration in print, fully aware that what I don’t know, what I can’t properly articulate will almost certainly lead to some spectacular intellectual prat falls. The good news is that it is the way of the pathfinder to seek paths into and through unknown territory so at least I have that going for me.
One of the cardinal rules of pathfinding is “Always find a way to take that first step.”
I think the first step in building a framework for Power and Peacemaking is to define my terms.
Peace. What is it? I’m feeling my way forward beyond bland dictionary definitional mutterings of the absence of hostilities or the presence of harmonious relations. I’m hoping for more than the absence of turmoil, or some patchouli scented cloud of vague good vibes. The biblical invocation of peace that passes understanding sounds wonderful but isn’t very helpful in arriving at a definition either. I’m circling a definition of peace that is built from resilience, calm in the face of adversity, and confidence in one’s own chosen path (dare I say faith?). I’m thinking of peace as something that gets measured not in good times but rather in challenging ones. And that’s where my conversations with myself about peace begin to also be about power, which seems to always be in the neighborhood when challenging times emerge.
So, power. Again, the dictionaries sound like they’re saying something but what does it mean to act or do something effectively? That sounds all sunshine and rainbows, or not at all like almost every real-world instance of the application of power. Buried way down in the long list of secondary definitions is something about the ability to have an impact on… (events, emotions, actions etc.). There are mathematical, physical, electrical, and statistical definitions. Even codfish comes into the mix as there is apparently a type of fish called power-cod. O.k. then. We seem to have gotten a bit off track. When I think and talk about power, I’m thinking and talking about a capacity to make change. And while that seems fair enough, it still fails to capture the moral (and morally bankrupt) nature of power which is where peace and power so often lock horns.
One of the challenges with the dictionary definitions of power is the reduction of power to a singular, static manifestation. I guess one could make that statement about definitions in general, but it becomes particularly problematic in discussions about power. As I’ve experienced it, manifestations of power are almost always multifaceted, emerging from a continuum of sources to make change. To make things really interesting, that continuum is not some discrete line between two points, but rather loops back on itself like a Mobius strip, combining both sources of power and direction of flow.
Sources first. The waypoints for sources of power I’ve imagined are physical power, positional power, and transcendent power. Physical power is the applications of muscles and material to make a change in the physical world, holding something or throwing it, crushing or creating actual bits of things and their collections. Positional power. is the power we give people based on positions they occupy, president, CEO, supervisor, doctor, priest, father, mother, etc. Positional power tends to be applied in the worlds of relationships, society, and organization. The third kind of power in this framework is transcendent power which is drawn from sources beyond the self or the group. And this is where the continuum gets so interesting because of the flow of power. Physical power flows outward from the individual to its object and is inherently intimate because of that relationship. Shifting down the continuum towards positional power the flow is still outward from the individual but becomes more diffuse across the empowering group and beyond. Moving on to transcendent power, the flow flips inward towards the individual from sources beyond the object or group. Transcendent power is marked by its changes to the individual, not to an object or group. This is also where the continuum begins to bend back towards the other end because transcendent changes to an individual often then radiate back outward changing societies, objects, and how we perceive them. Think Ghandi or Martin Luther King.
Great. Physical, Positional and Transcendent power. Yippie! Hmmm still not much on the moral contents of power or its relationship to peace until one begins looking at the outcomes and sustainability of these types of power. Miss-applications and abuse of these types of power are fertile ground for evil and challenges to peace. Spoiler alert, Physical and positional power really struggle with high fidelity outcomes and long-term sustainability primarily because they at best over promise on their potential and at worst (and more commonly) just outright lie to us about what we can accomplish with them. Transcendent power on the other hand tends toward higher fidelity outcomes and at least some kind of sustainability. But yeah, it’s much harder to cultivate as is true of most good things.
That’s the first step for me on this journey of understanding and application. I’ll be writing more posts on power and peacemaking in the coming months. I’d love to hear from you and have you come along and help me find and define this path.
Your description, transcendent power, fits with your liking of pathfinding. It is also linked with the Spirit, an affinity of yours (mine as well.) Peacemaking and pathfinding join handily, so you seem to me to have a starting point that matches your inclinations.
A direction to explore if you are inclined – entities within the UN work in practical ways with the ideas you’ve sketched. One such development, long evolved, is Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (https://sdgs.un.org/goals). The set of 17 covers circumstances to obtain for well being. Peace is explicitly included. The entire lot open plentiful pathways. I am involved with ISO technical groups responding to the SDGs directly supported by the built environment, every building or structure of every kind. (https://www.iso.org/committee/652901.html).
Keep us informed about where your new pathway leads?
Thank you for this thoughtful response. Was hoping you’d bring fresh perspective and pointers. Wasn’t plugged into either UN or ISO work. Thanks again