There is a basic truism that all conflict, at least group conflict that develops into taking sides (i.e. Democrats vs. Republicans), develops from the desire for power and control. No matter what the situation, the circumstance, or the number of people involved, conflict arises when there is a need for control using power over.
However, there is also power with. The first can be destructive. The latter can be creative. Fear drives the need for power over. Self-understanding permits the experience of power with.
There is no doubt that in almost everyone’s mind, the conflict existing in Washington, D.C., is a pure need for power over. The latest debacle that sadly affected approximately 800,000 government workers who serve the nation was an issue of who had power over, namely the Congress versus the administration. In my mind, that issue, and many others, have been brought about by a president who believes the only way to act is through power over, even at the cost of human economic suffering. Power over is also evident in the case of those attempting to immigrate, causing deep emotional suffering such as separating children from parents. We also witnessed the attempt to exercise power over when members of the House Ooversight Committee acted to demean and discredit Michael Cohen.
Many of us might believe power over is a natural result of our political system. Perhaps it is. However, there was a time when opposing parties in Congress worked out compromises for the benefit of the populace. This is when power with was demonstrated. Currently, as we watch our nation struggle with the fragility of democracy, we see our representatives choose power over because of an identity with a political party rather than moving our nation forward by working together.
We also see power over exerted when a group of people have an overriding majority and exert their influence. Religion is attempting to exert its influence in the public square, especially with the issues of pro-choice versus pro-life. Fundamental religionists use their power over to direct life experiences of those in the minority. The Roman Catholic Church’s scandal is due in a myriad of ways due to the abuse of power.
The definition of racism is prejudice plus power over. Currently humans classified with white skin are in the majority. They have exerted power over many times without even thinking about it. Racism is so subtle that it exists whenever we think white is normal. That is another example of power over. In our local area, we can cite examples by finding events or circumstances that have affected the black culture by keeping such events or circumstances omitted from our local history. The Roan Hill project, omission of integration from the 1969 Science Hill time capsule, and the lynching and burning of a black man in Erwin in 1918 are examples.
I speculate that the issue of climate disruption evokes fear that correcting this human cause will require working together through worldwide regulation and lifestyle change. Ergo, we pretend there is no climate disruption and use power to control a position that all can remain the same.
Without going at length into the dynamics of decision-making within the Washington County Commission, it is easy to observe the struggle between commissioners representing citizens in rural areas versus those in urban settings. Currently, the urban area was the loser in a close vote. I’m sure the rural communities have lost in other situations. What would happen if both perspectives attempted to understand each other’s needs?
At the state level, quoting a General Assembly representative, the state of Tennessee appears to want control over Medicaid expansion with its power over the process rather than use its power with the federal government. Who are the losers when power over is exerted? They are the citizens of Tennessee who have no power or insurance.
There are times for joy however. Johnson City worked with the black community through the NAACP, and a portion of State of Franklin Road has been named The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Highway. Johnson City and LEADS are working together to create an inclusionary cultural center in the heart of the city at the old Langston High School.
City and county leaders are focusing on regionalism, continuing the downtown development of Johnson City, bringing the internet to rural Washington County, wrestling with the need for inclusivity and diversity, and other efforts that could move the eastern part of Northeast Tennessee forward. Power over will halt that progress. Power with will help us create a healthier community.
We might even say that it’s faith in ourselves vs. fear.