“Power Is Simply Our Capacity to Act”

Today I read an inspiring article in the summer issue of Yes! magazine: “Why Power Is Not a Dirty Word” by Frances Moore Lappé. She points out that many of us fear power because we think of it as zero-sum, intimidating, and controlling. Against those ideas that keep people from acting, she posits a power that builds community and human capacity, a kind of power that involves give and take and shifts among all the people in the relationship.

The thing that struck me most was her mention of a 1990s study of the brain activity of monkeys, in which the researchers observed that not only did certain neurons fire while monkeys were performing a task, but also that those same neurons fired when monkeys watched another monkey perform that task.

Think about that. When we do something, good or bad, we are imprinting that action on someone else. It goes a long way toward explaining why people who grow up in abusive households often end up being abused/abusive themselves.

We therefore co-create one another, moment to moment. For me, our “imprintability” is itself a source of hope. Our actions, and perhaps our mental states, register in others, so that we change anyone observing us. That’s power.

How does this give us more power? Easy. Just hang around courageous people, those who are already fighting for what they love, and you’ll become more like them.

How Is This Restoration?

At first glance, it’s an abstract kind of restoration—of people. It gives people the idea that they can make change, that they don’t have to wait for it to be made. And when they truly learn that, when they see that they have made change, it becomes concrete.

Of course, it wouldn’t necessarily lead straight to “an economy that restores,” because people may wish to fight for changes to laws rather than creating a business that restores and makes money at the same time. But the more people who think they have the power to change things, the better, I say.