Four Types of Power

Stimulated by Occupy and an expanding inquiry into new forms of economics, combined with my ongoing interest in bringing wisdom to politics and governance, I’ve stumbled on a productive approach to pulling it all together: Start from an exploration of Power – particularly, but not only, social power. This brings both politics and economics under the same roof, and oddly integrates protest movements, alternative technologies and social forms, and the human potential movement. More on that later.

Right now, I want to share some notes on types of power. If you have thoughts about these lists, please share them on my blog so others can see them and all the comments will be gathered together in one place where it will be easier for me to review and learn from them all.

I hope you find these interesting and thought-provoking. I look forward to any comments you may have.


PS: I plan to post another “Sources of Occupy” piece tomorrow. In the meantime, if you are eager for something delightful about the Occupy movement, check out this video of a flashmob on November 19 in which over 100 dancers converged at Occupy SF & Oakland to dance the world awake:

Ideally it would have been in my previous mailing, but I just learned about it yesterday. You can join in helping it go viral (it’s well on its way – up 3000 views just today!)






by Tom Atlee


Power is, generically, the ability to do, otherwise known as Power-To. Listed here is a proposed model of four types of power which are involved in understanding and working with power in social change and healthy (and unhealthy) social systems. All these types of power interrelate in various ways that can be explored (only a few of which are hinted at here). In addition to descriptions of these types of power, each has sources, shadows, and ways to align it with life (including minimizing its potential toxicity) which are not discussed here.


A.   POWER OVER – The power to control, determine or influence what will happen; to get people or things to do what YOU want


1. Force, coercion, intimidation, domination – total control, or control by threat of force


2. Authority, command, management, supervision – using an established system for following orders


3. Exploitation/(Abuse) – using someone or something for one’s own ends (often without regard to its/their welfare)


4. Manipulation – using deception to influence others in ways they aren’t aware of and so can’t combat


5. Influence, pressure, sway – any effort to affect another’s behavior, thought, feelings, etc. (the mildest or more generic forms of power-over)



B.   POWER WITH – The power of being, doing, and having together in ways that achieve what WE want


1. Collaboration, cooperation, co-intelligence – creating combined effects


2. Social capital – relationships, networks, associations, connections, communication systems that enable the other forms of power-with


3. Facilitation, inspiration, evocation, empowerment, purpose, motivation – arousing and enabling the power of the group and those within it


4. Community, mutual aid, sharing – support for each other in meeting our individual and shared needs


5. Compassion, caring, nurturance – feeling for and support for others, usually in ways that strengthen the whole


6. Resonance, synergy, unity – aligning or integrating the qualities and energies of who we ARE, to greater effect


7. Aggregation, collection, accumulation – strength or wisdom derived from our numbers, now or over time


8. Interaction, conversation, coevolution – dancing our way into new understandings, relationships, possibilities, and other potencies



C.   POWER FROM WITHIN – The power that arises from oneself, especially in one’s engagements with the world


1. Sovereignty – autonomy, strength from self-definition and self-determination; will, agency


2. Capacity – one’s own skills, aptitudes, talents, resources, intelligence, ability to tolerate dissonance and uncertainty


3. Integrity – the power of one’s wholeness or integration; potency of one’s character; honor, authenticity, virtue


4. Presence – centeredness, the power of one’s beingness and “being in the present”; showing up, courage; attention, consciousness


5. Sanity – clear relationship with reality, the absence of psychic distortions that interfere with one’s power


6. Attunement – internally connecting, aligning or opening one’s consciousness to other sources of power; self-transcendence


7. Purpose – dedication, persistence, caring, calling, passion; an internal orientation with significant energy and meaning driving it



D.   POWER AS – The power of embodiment – which manifests or clears a path for energies associated with what is embodied.
Much of impact of power-as derives from resonance between those embodying and those who witness them. We can manifest power-as when we manifest or channel any of the very different following entities:


1. A universal force or quality – an ideal or “higher power” – like Love, God, Nature, Truth, Evolution (this is enabled by attunement). Examples include Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, and people who are known authentically as “a force of nature”.


2. An archetype – Mother, Hero, Healer, Trickster, Child, Leader, Teacher, etc. – characters in collective narratives (often unconscious) that have potent shared emotional, moral, spiritual, or social connotations. Examples include my naturopath as archetypal Healer (after a visit I feel better even before explicit treatment – which makes me trust her advice) and John F. Kennedy as an archetypal Leader.


3. The Zeitgeist – embodying the “spirit of the times”. Examples include many rapidly expanding movements, certain viral memes or creations (art, music, humor, etc.), successful demagogues, etc., because they tap into, manifest and speak for and to the ambient energies of their era and culture, generating supportive resonance that causes their influence to grow.


4. The Other – Various examples include when one reflects back / mirrors what someone else says or does in a way that makes them feel fully heard or seen, which generates a profound shift or opening in their energy. Also role plays and drama that successfully represents diverse voices or energies, causing them to be seen differently by themselves and/or others – notably humorous and satirical imitation that ridicules or parodies a power-over person or institution, making them seem less daunting to those they dominate.

5. An acquired, acknowledged social role or position. Examples include the influence one has by being a police officer or president or janitor or union spokesperson or banker or doctor or facilitator or… Attached to each role are shared expectations of specific kinds of influence, which can be held or exercised with more or less potency. Often the natural potency of the role derives from the larger potency of the collective or institution represented by the role (e.g., the entire judicial system as represented by the police officer).

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