Power and Love – a second post by Frankie Blackburn

I’ve been on an expedition with others to discover concrete strategies for deep, long term community change. On this journey, we stumbled on a simple process that produces immediate results. The good news is that this simple process is available to you TODAY in your community.  Try these four steps in at least one of your community or staff meetings TODAY:

Step One: Pretend that you feel powerful, deep inside yourself. 

Most of us act from a place of fear or use our positional power as a protective shield.  Focus on what is unique and special about you. This is the kind of focus and power that makes you feel quietly calm and serene. Again, pretend you feel your unique kernel of power, even it you do not fully know what it is.  Working from a “pretend place” of calm strength at this next community or staff meeting, you will likely have a creative idea or an honest reflection bubble up in your head.  Don’t think too hard.

Step Two:  Make one offer from this deeply powerful place. 

In a typical community setting or small team meeting, many of us hold back from offering a creative idea or honest reflection. We are afraid of looking stupid, stepping over a line or losing some positional power.  If you are truly focused on your unique strength, you will likely have several of these “thought bubbles” during a particular session or meeting. Think about which one best advances the common goal of the group and offer it up.  Again, don’t think too hard. Just offer it up.

Step Three:  Find one opportunity to elicit another person’s unique power.

Since we all experience vulnerability when participating at a community table, it is a safe bet that the others around the table are working from a place of fear too. This is true even when people are acting like they are not fearful. In fact, those who are acting with the greatest bravado are often feeling the most threatened. One of the most effective steps we can take in a typical group is to pretend we are on a treasure hunt to find another person’s unique kernel of power, no matter the barriers.  Ask someone the question: what are you thinking? what is your idea? Again, don’t think too hard. Just ask.

Step Four:  Reflect and repeat 3 more times in the same setting. Just do it.

Take a quiet moment while driving home at the end of the day. Ask yourself:  did something positive flow from my decision to try out these three steps?  In all likelihood, the answer is yes. The positive result may not be what you hoped for or different than you expected.  It may feel very small.  Repeat these steps in the same setting three more times.  We guarantee that you will start to see positive results on a larger scale.

My community friends and I  call these steps power-sharing.  Martin Luther King, among others, refers to these steps as “love”.   But if we had started by using the word love, you may have stopped reading.  Embedded in the three steps are two types of love: (1) Self Love and (2) Love of others.  The simple trick is to hold both and practice both types of love at the same time – over and over again.

My  goal with this post is to introduce these practices to you in hopes that you can use them too. You will discover that through the use of these practices, you can help others share power over and over again.  And, as a result, powerful changes will emerge.

WARNING LABEL:    Many people in community life think they are following a similar process to the one outlined above.  It is often referred to as “collaboration”.  We have found that in the vast majority of community collaborations, power sharing is not occurring.  Clearly, positive things can flow from community collaborations, but these forms typically do not produce the kind of deep systemic change most of us are looking for.  In fact, many of the structures and forms we originally relied on to spark community change have – over time – created the most serious barriers to authentic power sharing.

POST SCRIPT:  If you are still feeling skeptical or not sure how to practice self-love and love of others at the same time,  think of it in terms of four simple behavior shifts.

Shift One: Understanding your own unique personal power. 

  • What does this new behavior look like?
    • You enter each new encounter feeling  positive, open and calm.
  • What does the old behavior look like?
    • You enter each new encounter feeling anxious and the need to protect yourself.
  • Why is the shift hard to make?
    • We have a well-developed story in our head that says we don’t have much to contribute or that others do not appreciate what we have to offer.

Shift Two: Contributing from your own unique personal power.

  • What does this new behavior look like?
    • You listen more carefully to creative thoughts that bubble up in your head and then you take the risks to reveal them when they occur.
  • What does the old behavior look like?
    • You hold back from offering an idea or you spend a lot of time talking about various concerns or limited capacity.
  • Why is the shift hard to make?
    • We have a well-developed story in our head that says we don’t have much to contribute or that others do not appreciate what we have to offer.

Shift Three: Being curious about another person’s unique personal power.

  • What does this new behavior look like?
    • You talk less and look for opportunities to specifically ask others about their ideas and thoughts.
  • What does the old behavior look like?
    • You consume a lot of time talking or you passively participate, which can inhibit others in talking or offering an idea or thought.
  • Why is the shift hard to make?
    • Many times, we have to work hard just to get our ideas out in the open, much less devoting energy to drawing out others, especially those who are shy or reticent. 

Shift Four: Receiving offers from another person’s unique personal power.

  • What does this new behavior look like?
    • You ask clarifying questions which indicates that you heard what someone said and you are genuinely interested in knowing more, even if you do not agree.
  • What does the old behavior look like?
    • You might immediately disagree, link the offer back to your point or dismiss it because it does not match what you were looking for.
  • Why is the shift hard to make?
    • We often hear what people say through our immediate lens, which is usually a protective one. So, our first instinct is to judge an offer based on how it serves or does not serve our positional interests.
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The Power Sharing Platform – A first post by Frankie Blackburn

I believe that the single greatest inhibitor to transformative community change is the underlying assumption that power is finite and that in any one community setting, some people will win and some will lose. Yes. Positional power is finite. And, yes, civil society needs forms of positional power to function efficiently and effectively. But, personal power is infinite and can be recognized and shared on a consistent basis at every corner of specific community systems.  A culture of sharing power offers the kind of collective ground needed to support community members in offering their best gifts and achieving their highest potential.  The practice of sharing personal power also helps ensure that positional power is merely a practical instrument and not the dominate frame.

I understand that asking diverse residents “to share power” seems big and perhaps overly optimistic. So, instead, think of it as a call for you and others to start on a new journey and to carry two items with you at all times on this journey. The first item you must carry and use on this journey is a backpack and in this backpack is your unique kernel of power.  We all are born with unique qualities to contribute in relationship to others. Any time you meet with a fellow community member or hold a small team meeting, make sure you have your backpack with you. Even if you do not fully know or understand your unique kernel of power, remember that you do have one and it is available to you.

The second item to always carry and use is an empty treasure chest.  The purpose of this chest is to remind you that you are on a treasure hunt and the treasures you are hunting for are the kernels of power held by your fellow community members.  Again, when you sit with someone for a cup of coffee or hold a small meeting to talk about a particular community issue or initiative, bring your chest with you and actively seek out the treasures that others have to offer you.

Over time, if you repeatedly focus on your personal power while also exploring the personal power of others, you will begin to find new resources and new solutions that you did not think possible.  If this practice is repeated over and over again in multiple community meetings, and among multiple community members, you will begin to see the unfolding of a new and transformed community eco-system.