**Companion Resources Newsletter**
edited by Paul D. Leichty
Volume 3, No. 11 November 2001
Any group of people who consider themselves a community have to deal with the power of some members over others. In these last weeks, I have thought about the issue of power and control of our lives from some new perspectives. I’ll share a bit of that with you.
Times of crisis often bring out feelings of powerlessness. When we feel powerless, we often try to find ways of regaining power, ways of helping us feel in control again.
The problem comes when my use of power hurts others and makes other people feel powerless. If that person, in turn, exerts power toward me, we may eventually find ourselves in a power struggle. If the situation gets too intense, the struggle turns into a fight, into acts of overt violence, or even into war.
It is relatively easy (for me, at least) to see that cycle of feelings of powerlessness and use of power on an international level as America’s “war on terrorism” escalates. The events of September 11 shook the core of our country’s feelings of safety and security like nothing else in my generation. Suddenly, we were faced with the fact that there are people in the world who don’t experience America’s power as being in their interest. They are finding ways of exerting their power–and it has caused the American people untold pain. We in turn, as a nation, are responding by using our power–military power–to try to nullify their power. And, at the same time, we worry about the power they might have, the power of anthrax or some other germ warfare, or chemical warfare, or even the power of a nuclear weapon.
I have also been reminded recently of the role that religion often plays in these power games. I was asked to lead a discussion of another religion than the Christian faith that I and the group I was leading claim as our own. I chose to talk about a religious system that is even different than the other one we hear so much about these days, Islam. In the process, I learned more about both Islam and Christianity.
I was struck again as I studied the origins of this particular religious system how it came from humble and essentially powerless beginnings. As the members found power in coming together, they also found power in a particular spirituality. They discovered “secrets” that they began to pass down through the generations to other “seekers.” In particular, they discovered spiritual forces in the world which gave them power over other people.
Sometimes they used that power for things that everyone considers good. But often underneath that mask of goodness developed the kind of power over others which became ruthless and evil–yet still in the name of their good and godly goals.
Many of us can see this scenario also played out in the Muslim extremists and militants who are supposedly at the core of the evil events of September 11. Unfortunately, the history of Judaism and Christianity is also littered with an unfortunate succession of events in which people have tried to use the power of their God to win power and control over other people.
How does this apply to persons with special needs?
Persons who don’t have the same mental capacities or the same ability to communicate as most of us do are often at the bottom of the power ladder. They have few choices about where they live, what work they do, who they can associate with, and even what they wear. Nevertheless they can have creative (and sometimes destructive!) ways of exerting their power, of helping themselves to feel in some kind of control of their lives.
I’ve been reminded of some of these kinds of uses of power which tend to “drive me nuts.” The power of behaviors such as screaming, slamming doors, or throwing objects is great, even when no one is in any physical danger. To eat or not to eat can be a matter of controlling at least one thing in one’s life. A time-consuming and seemingly senseless ritual can have great power over a whole household as it ties up a bathroom or makes everyone late for an event.
Working with persons with special needs soon makes one realize that simply countering this kind of power with our own greater power of intelligence and control and physical force usually makes the “problems” worse. Doing so systematically in the name of any god or religious system soon moves over into abuse. A radically different kind of spirituality is needed to break this cycle of powerlessness and exertion of power.
On a practical, professional, and “secular” level, that is the reason why I promote the philosophy that has come to be known as Gentle Teaching. Gentle Teaching acknowledges, in effect, that we are powerless when it comes to controlling other people. But it says that we *do* have the power to control our own responses. We can make the decision to love and value the other person regardless of that person’s behavior. We can do our part to create a climate of safety and security so that the other person does not get lost in feelings of powerlessness.
I don’t find it “natural” to show love all of the time or to always consider the safety and welfare of the other person. Even when I intend to be loving and think I know what is best for the other person, I don’t always “get it right” in the other person’s eyes. For me, that’s where this radically different kind of spirituality comes in. I need the power to keep loving without conditions.
I find that power in the story of Jesus. Christians are already in this season of the year celebrating again the story of an all-powerful God becoming a powerless baby “lying in a manger.” That “baby” lived his whole life standing up to all of the powers that the world threw at him with nothing but love and a desire for the salvation of others. For that, he died a cruel death. Yet, the good news is that through that kind of self-giving love, we all have the opportunity for resurrection, new life, and salvation.
In that story is both the model and the only spiritual power that I know of to actually break the cycle of powerlessness and power. When we ourselves experience the true power of that love, then we can share it with others.
In the U.S., we tend to move right from the November holiday of Thanksgiving directly to the December holiday of Christmas. So I’ll just say I am most thankful for the story represented by Christmas. It is what keeps me going in the face of much evil and pain to show love to those who have the most difficulty experiencing it.
To find out more, explore the links on the Companion Resources page on Gentle Teaching (https://companionresources.org/Companionship/Gentleness), including the links on the bottom of the page which build some ties to international peace.
Blessings to all of you and may you all know the power of love in this season of the year!
Paul D. Leichty
The Goldenrod Community
“People using Technology building Community”