This is why I am no longer afraid of Power

Sherna Alexander Benjamin
Posted January 30, 2019 from Trinidad and Tobago

Global citizens move around in environments of power every day.  Decisions are made every second from places and spaces of power and such decisions affect individual lives in the present and future.  However, many of us are afraid of the word “Power”, we fear to speak about it, we shun from claiming it and we correlate it to something that is evil or something which destroys power holders, power seekers and power framers.

The thought of power often sends a destabilizing crippling effect which incapacitates many into a narcoleptic passivity state. This passivity enables the concentration of power, it allows power holders to justify the use of power and it gives the sense that power is static and infinite in its present operation and manifestation.

I was illiterate about power and the use of it.  I did not understand it as I was never educated about it, and this illiteracy brought with it certain fears and fears encouraged apathy and disengagement in my civic duties and placed me on virtually non-existent ends of the individual, political, social, academic and economic social #spectrums. I feared to own power because as a Caribbean person I was socialized to believe that power was scary and it belonged to a certain group of people, a certain class in society, and a certain race. For many of us in the Caribbean, power was shrouded in secrets and mysticism. We need to demystify power.

I believed and accepted that power was corrupt, it was bad and it was destructive.  I felt uncomfortable to participate in conversations about power and would use my illiteracy and fears to criticise something I was not knowledgeable about nor its uses and I was ashamed to acknowledge this. The fears of others compounded my own inner fears and I self-subjugated as a citizen in my personal, community and professional life.

How could I acknowledge what I did not know, ironically I criticised what I did not know. Illiteracy kills development and growth and sadly many power holders feed the illiteracy of the masses and are energised by it.  Every opportunity which presented itself to appoint me in a place or position of authority or power I would run from it like a bat out of hell with a ton of excuses. This fear of power crippled me in every area of my life,  I used my powerlessness to justify my illiteracy as I accused to be excused.

While travelling and sitting at the feet of transformative and emancipatory educators I began to understand power and how powerful it can be in the hands, minds and hearts of literate actively engaged citizens. I began a personal process of de-institutionalising my own ladders of oppression, demystifying the social construction of power which shaped and moulded my attitudes and behaviours as a result of the power of social norms and the institutions which they feed into. I began redefining what it means to be a Caribbean Citizen of African descent whose parents came from two different Caribbean Islands, with two different contexts and each having a different understanding of power.

I began the process of understanding the power of citizenship not from the linear ideology of place and country of birth as this linear view have opened the doors for exclusion, permission and creates multiple negative consequences for humankind.  I began living citizenship from that place of being “a pro-social, problem-solving contributor in a self-governing community. As civics is the art of citizenship.” – Eric Liu of Citizen University. This definition of citizenship initiated the process of evolving citizenship in my life.

The time is now when Caribbean citizens ought to become literate about the transformational and explosive effect of civic power.  Literacy about power ignites active citizenship. We must replace the thought that power is a zero-sum game with the innovative, imaginative civic idea of together (Self-US Now).  For years citizens have been operating from the place of power is zero-sum which is when one person, group, political party, institution or community gains power then another or the other loses power.

This ideology which has become an accepted social norm in the Caribbean continues to disempower citizens, erode civic engagement and enable citizen’s passivity and or willful illiteracy.  When citizens begin to look at power as a positive sum power entity which begins by looking at the ‘whole’. When we include voices who are left out and marginalised.

When we increase citizens understanding of ‘Together Self-US Now’. When voice and agency and civic power are embraced and included, then communities and societies will be strengthened, become adaptable, and powerful. Inclusion always changes the roles and sources of power. And Inclusion always breeds social development and endless possibilities because it always inspires success.

#Citizens have an obligation to understand that power must be claimed and exercise from a place of literacy. To claim power one must understand it. We all have a right to claim civic power. And we must not ask for permission to claim nor exercise it, as the present power holders who have concentrated power would use power to justify why power over should remain with them and those they appoint.

Lord Acton in his letter to Bishop #Mandell #Creighton in 1887 stated “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” This phrase is often banded about by many and in most cases, it is not used to raise individual’s consciousness about understanding and claiming civic power but it’s used to score points against a perceived or assumed opponent.

#Lord #Acton was right, however, what many fail to realise is that the majority of citizens give up their power way too cheaply and some are not aware of it so it remains dormant as citizens exist in sheer passivity. When citizens allow power to concentrate and compound, when power is left to itself then monopolistic structures are erected through visible and invisible social norms within the family, public, private and civil society sectors. And this type of concentrated power can be used to create and pass bias policies and legislation.  Great men are indeed almost always viewed as bad men because too many great men are illiterate about power.

What also happens when power is concentrated? It opens the flood gate of narratives which are created to justify the power concentration, the holders of it and its manifestations. And over time due process of democracy is covertly taken over by a coup and held captive. This concentration of power establishes systems of social, economic and political inequalities. It widens the economic gaps and classifies and categorizes citizens. ‘We and Them’, ‘Rich and Poor’, ‘Upper, middle, low and no class’, ‘educated and uneducated’.

And it categorizes geographical communities by labelling them ghetto, upscale, residential and At-Risk. #Citizens accept this because of power justification narratives and they do not claim their power and exercise it in promoting active citizenship and participation, accountability, and democratic governance.

Because of the #mystification of the power processes and terms, many citizens are intimidated to participate in community building, they do not call for inclusion and participatory approaches and processes for community development, planning and budgeting, and citizens socialise from places of fatalism, cynicism, naivety or client-hood, and power and privilege remains the order of the day. If citizens are not actively engaged then the power holders who concentrate power would act upon the citizens.

Learned helplessness and #powerlessness also concentrates and compounds and many citizens use powerlessness to justify why they cannot and should not become engaged. They would create narratives of their own perceptions, assumptions and even of their own realities and truths. This powerless concentration of power opens the door for non-participation and loss of voice and agency, and indifference diffuses a sickening smoke in the atmosphere.

As citizens we must change our culture of disengagement and become literate about civic power. We must understand that power is not static nor limited to one geographical location, dispensation, or group. Through civic engagement and power, citizens can create a revolution to demystify power, democratize #democracy, show up to serve, develop a deep sense of pride in self and country and show that power is infinitude in the hands of citizens.

There exist way too many #powerful people holding and using power who are illiterate about it. and this illiteracy begins the abuse of power.  It is imperative that citizens understand the role of citizenship, become literate of what it is and how it functions, and understand how to claim and exercise their civic power. According to #Eric #Liu, learning to read and write power changes the power game, it changes the power justification narratives and its changes the equation.

The #Caribbean needs a revolution of thoughts, creativity, innovation, imagination and an army of literate actively engaged citizens who will stand and be counted, who will speak truth to power, who will call for conversations to share ideas and use those ideas to reshape communities within the Caribbean. As Caribbean citizens, we should aspire to leave a legacy which says “I was present at the creation, as citizens we imagined, designed and built together (Self-US) a better Trinidad and Tobago and a better Caribbean region.

This is why I no longer fear to name and own power and Speak TRUTH to Power.

This story was submitted in response to Share On Any Topic.

Comments 5

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Jill Langhus
Jan 31
Jan 31

Hi Sherna,

How are you doing? Thanks for sharing your interesting and "powerful" post about how people use power and how people could look at power very differently to create more positive impact. It's definitely not something I've thought about that much until I read your post, and I do agree that people fear it and criticize, unless they have it. It's a great post for getting sisters to think more about what power they have and how they could harness it for good.

Hope you're having a good day, dear.

Hello Sister Jill,
Appreciate and grateful for your comment. As women, we need to understand and use power but more so demystify it. Harnessing power, collaborative power, asset-based power leads to igniting active citizenship. We need to talk about power, we need to name it and we need to embrace it.

In service to humanity

Jill Langhus
Feb 19
Feb 19

Hello Sherna,

You're welcome:-) Sounds like a good idea to me...

Have a good one!

Beth Lacey
Feb 14
Feb 14

This is a great article, Sherna. How are you doing?

Thank you, Beth,
I appreciate your voice and words of encouragement. I am doing progressing.

In service to humanity