WEAKNESS AND POWER
Frequently people in power are not as strong as they might wish to appear. Many people who desperately hunger for power are weak. They seek power positions to compensate for their own fragility and vulnerability. A weak person in power can never be generous with power because they see questions or alternative possibilities as threatening their own supremacy and dominance. If you are going to be creatively confrontational with such a person, you need to approach very gently in a non-direct manner. This is the only way to reach the heart of such a frightened, powerful person with the word of truth.
The workplace as a place of power can also be a place of control. Control is destructive because it reduces your own independence and autonomy. You are placed back in an infantile role where you are dealing with an authority figure. Because of our untransfigured relationship to our parents we sometimes turn authority figures into giants. There is a crucial distinction here between power and authority. When you are awake to the integrity of you inner power, then you are your own authority. The word authority signifies your authorship of your ideas and actions. The world functions through power structures. Consequently, it is desirable that genuine people of refined sensibility, imagination and compassion leave themselves available to take up positions of power. A charismatic person in a powerful position can be an agent of far-reaching and positive change.
When you are being controlled, you are treated as an object rather than a subject. Often people in power have an uncanny instinct for working the system against you. I know a millionaire who made his money in the clothes trade. The women working for him were paid poorly. Every so often, he would sense the tension building up amongst them. One day he turned the radio on really loud. Then all the workers began to complain. He watched the aggression building up until finally a group came to him and asked that the volume be lowered. He refused. They became more militant and threatened to go on strike. He insisted on keeping the volume loud. When they were almost out on the street, he lowered the volume. His strategy was to let them have the impression that they had the power. Then they returned to work, feeling they had won a victory over the boss, even though he had staged the conflict from the very beginning. This happened forty years ago. In the modern workplace unionization and the development of workers's rights means that employers can no longer get awas with such obvious manipulation. Still the work situation continues to exploit people. Management is now more subtle in its strategies of control and alienation.
The workplace can be a place of great competition. Management sometimes plays the workers against each other. Consequently, when you go into work you are in solo combat with your colleague in terms of productivity. Your colleagues begin to appear as a threat. Where productivity becomes God, each individual is reduced to a function. It would be wonderful if the workplace were a place of real inspiration with the work engaging your creativity. Your gift would be welcomed there; your contribution seen. Everyone has a special gift. Your life becomes happier when your gift can grow and come to expression in your place of work. You are freed to receive inspiration from others. Furthermore, because the gift of each person in relation to the overall work is unique, there need be no competition between the workers. This makes the workplace hospitable to the energies, rhythms and gifts of the soul. There is no reason why every workplace could not begin to develop such creativity.
Work should not serve the owners and the employers alone. Work should also serve the workers and the community. Structures should be developed whereby workers are able to share in the profits. The entry of imagination and the awakening of soul demands that work be understood as contributing to the creativity and improvement of the larger community. A firm or corporation which has large profits should assist and support the poor and the underprivileged. To create optimal conditions of work should become a priority. Furthermore, awkward but hones questions should be engaged. Where work creates products which endanger people or nature, it should be critiqued and changed.
One of the most powerful and prophetic analysts of work was Karl Marx. He showed how work can alienate a person from their nature and potential. Certain work can dull and darken human presence. In our century some of the most prophetic, trenchant and illuminating critical thought has come from this tradition. The school of critical theory has delivered a penetrating and critical evaluation of industrial society. It has revealed that history and society internally influence the structure of human identity. The nature of work and consumerism diminish and oppress the self. Critical theory has made a great contribution to the recovery of soul by identifying the subtlety and pervasiveness of these alienating forces. It cuts through the colourful but fictitious surface-image which conceals the quiet suffocation of individuality. Contemporary society worships at the altar of functionalism. Concepts such as process, method, model and project have come to infiltrate our language and determine how we describe our relation to the world. The recovery of soul means a rediscovery of Otherness; this would awaken again the sense of mystery, possibility and compassion. The deadening force of function would diminish and a new vitality infuse our activities. Stated philosophically, being could find expression in doing. The recovery of the sense of Otherness is the deepest mystical task of modern society. Celtic spirituality has an immense contribution to make in fostering this sense of Otherness. In its metaphysic of friendship there is a profound acknowledgement of the Otherness of nature, the self and the Divine. However, our modern conversation with Celtic tradition must be critical and reflective. Otherwise Celtic spirituality is in danger of becoming another fashionable and exotic spiritual programme in our sensation-driven culture.
In the world of negative work, where you are controlled, where power prevails and you are a mere functionary, everything is determined by an ethic of competition. In the world of creative work, where your gift is engaged, there is no competition. The soul transfigures the need for competition. In contrast, the world of quantity is always haunted by competition: if I have less, you have more. In the world of soul, the more you have, the more everyone has. The rhythm of soul is the surprise of endless enrichment.