Chapter 8 RELATIONAL*POWER - Process Philosophy for Everyone
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Chapter 8 RELATIONALPOWER Internal Relations
the “so what?” of the relational vision. • it is precisely the power to be affected that increases as we move up the chain of complexity from mere electrons, to molecules, to microorganisms, to plants and animals, to vertebrates with brains and central nervous systems… • It is our amazing capacity to be affected by the incredible richness and complexity of the relational web in which we live. • In short, the higher we go toward more complex organisms, the more the power to be affected emerges.
Was Plato right? • Do power, value, and reality go together? Was Plato right that the definition of “being” is simply power? • So, process-relational philosophy turns our understanding of power on its head in a way that can transform our vision of reality and of human relationships. • Bernard Loomer first proposed that we distinguish between unilateral power and relational power.
What are the components of “relational power”? • He wrote about relational power in terms of the two components of being affected and affecting others. • In my own formulation, relational power includes three components: (1) the ability to be actively open to and affected by the world around us; (2) the ability to create ourselves out of what we have taken in; and (3) the ability to influence those around us by having first been affected by them.
• Process-relational thinkers like Loomer and Whitehead agree with Plato that everything actual exercises some power—either to affect or to be affected. • If you were completely unaffected by the world around you, you would simply cease to exist because you are constantly creating yourself out of your relationships with that world. • There is a crucial, life-shaping difference between the kind of weakness that makes us vulnerable to being controlled by others and the strength that enables us to be active and open to the world around us.
Parenting that exercises relational power is hard work • Consider parenting. All too often, parents choose the path of unilateral power because it is easier than sharing power. • But, I have seen people who were able to affect children by having first been actively affected by those children with love, compassion, patience, and imagination. • Parenting that exercises relational power is hard work. It takes a lot of patience, self-control, emotional strength, and a willingness to bear much of the price for the children’s mistakes. • But the reward for relational parenting is a greater joy at children’s accomplishments, and a deeper, more mutual love as children develop their own relational power.
inequality of power will always be with us • Bernard Loomer was clear that inequality of power will always be with us since obviously people differ in economic, political, and physical power. • We are strikingly unequal in power, in our capacity to influence others for good or ill, by fair means or foul.” • In a unilateral model, the burdens of inequality are borne most heavily by those who are weaker…
They must learn not to care about the sufferings of others
• Loomer emphasizes that there is a price to be paid even for those with great unilateral strength, for their strength lies in impoverishing their own relationships. They must learn not to care about the sufferings of others. • Faced with inevitable inequalities, people with relational power will choose to bear a larger burden so that the weaker have a chance to develop their own relational power. Unlike unilateral power, relational power is not competitive in the sense of being mutually exclusive. • Relational power is like love: The more we love each other, the more both of us can grow in love.
those of larger size must undergo greater suffering • As Loomer explains, “In the life of relational power, the unfairness means that those of larger size must undergo greater suffering and bear a greater burden in sustaining those relationships that hopefully may heal the brokenness of the seamless web of interdependence in which we all live.” • By listening with active openness, they help other people to articulate their own values more clearly and so to bring a richer vision of value into the relationship.
relational power is different from passivity or unilateral weakness
• “Under the relational conception of power, the true good is an emergent from deeply mutual relationships.” • Just as Gandhi insisted that there was nothing passive about non-violence (ahimsa), Loomer emphasizes that relational power is different from passivity or unilateral weakness. • Relational power does not mean letting other people control or manipulate you.
It requires enormous strength. • So, as you actively listen to the concerns and values of others, you also bring your own best judgment to bear in deciding who you will be in this relationship, • what you want to contribute out of your own wisdom, • how you want to change yourself and your values in the face of new experiences, • and what you want to contribute to the relationship that may shape others involved. • There is nothing weak or passive in such selfcreativity. It requires enormous strength.
It may take even greater relational power open to the values experienced by the nonhuman !!
• relational power takes us beyond the human community. A process-relational vision of the world makes it clear that we humans are not the only members of the world community to experience pain or pleasure or values of our own. • We are inescapably part of the larger ecological web that supports us, sustains us, and enriches our lives with beauty. • It may take even greater relational power to become open to the values experienced by those nonhuman members of our community, but in the long run, we must develop the power to perceive those values, or we will surely continue to do massive damage to the ecological web essential to our own survival.
We are so trapped in political, economic, and social structures of unilateral power
• We are so trapped in political, economic, and social structures of unilateral power that it often seems
foolishly idealistic to take love and relational power seriously as models for life and social change. • Yet, the Buddha, Gandhi, Jesus, and Martin Luther King Jr. are obvious public examples of great relational power. • They lived out of a relational vision.
A relational vision may assist us in a relational vision of power
• Violence toward children, women, “people of color,” and others, while still all too common, is no longer seen as normal or acceptable. • All of these groups have at least begun to have some genuine voice in our culture, despite powerful forces wanting to retain a culture of unilateral control. • A relational vision may assist us in articulating more clearly a relational vision of power
the contrast between coercion and persuasion • John Cobb emphasizes the contrast between coercion and persuasion. • In human relationships, these are the differences between relationships that diminish freedom and those that increase it. • There is much greater power in changing the hearts and minds of people through persuasion than to order them about or kill them.