The Paradox of Power

Winds of Peace Foundation has been busy preparing for its role in the upcoming “Certificate Program II” in Nicaragua.  The seminar and workshop is the second in what is a series of week-long gatherings of small producers, market representatives, technicians, lenders and related others.  The first of these, held last year in April, was judged by participants to have been useful and hope-producing to their circumstances and outlooks for the future; there is high anticipation for this next iteration, by both participants and presenters.  And among the topics to be addressed, in several ways, is that of power.

If you look at the workshop brochure, you won’t see “power” listed as a subject.  There will be no power expert in attendance, nor will there be any exercises to help participants in body building or intimidation strategies.  Instead, the subject matter will focus on a seemingly unlikely concept, that of sharing.

The irony and paradox of great power is that it is most magnified when it is shared, because no one of us can ever be as powerful as all of us.  So our sessions will focus on concepts such as open book management, where all of the members of an organization are educated about the metrics of organizational success, and how each individual contributes to that success.  We will examine the workings of a “Lean” organization, where all members are provided with the tools and motivations for continuous improvement, where the ideas and innovations of the leaders are seen to carry no greater weight than any other member.  We will have the rare opportunity to jointly visit some member farms, to both witness good practices and offer insights for improvements- an activity that is too infrequent for rural producers who need every advantage and insight possible.  The sessions will also be designed for the maximum degree of shared storytelling, participants teaching and learning from one another.  In short, sharing will be the core of the entire program.

Power.  It’s a useful thing when shared for the symmetrical strengthening of all members of a group.  It’s a divisive thing when it is accompanied by a lust for absolute and private control.  It’s a seductive thing, capable of clouding even the clearest intentions for equity and fairness.  But it’s also a freeing thing, capable of lifting capacity and talent to their fullest heights.

One of the great ironies of humanity is that we tend to believe that amassing and holding power to ourselves is the surest means of success, when in truth our collective and personal well-being- whether intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual, occupational or physical- hinges upon the extent to which we share our gifts, knowledge and power.  To share power is to gain it, a paradox much like that of love itself: to receive it, we must be willing to give it.

Individuals and organizations alike have been slow to understand and embrace the reality of holding onto power.  It’s so counterintuitive that it tends to make doubters of most of us.  And then there are the nations of the world, who steadfastly model the wielding of power to the exclusion of other lands.  Organizations like companies and cooperatives, who often look to military and government models of structure and administration, end up chasing a tail that can never successfully be caught.  It turns out that we would often rather be wrong like everyone else rather than right by ourselves.

In September’s Nica gathering, we’ll spend a lot of time sharing wisdom about organizational power and leadership with one another.   And that’s appropriate, because they’re meant to be shared….

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