Dancing with Power and Love

I was in Sydney a few weeks ago discussing CoCreate with my friend Michelle Williams, when she recommended Kahane’s Power and Love.  I’d assumed she wanted to convince me to get ‘powerful’ people in the room.  But I’ve since discovered Power and Love is much more subtle than that.

‘Power’ in the book is not the capacity to do things.  It’s the drive to do things – the energy and intention to make things happen, to realise, and to ‘extend’.  And ‘love’ is not about affection, but instead about the drive to unify, and to bring us together.

To effect change together, we need to operate these drives in a balanced way. This is the book’s central thesis, and one of the biggest lessons from Adam Kahane’s life’s work.

Kahane draws on his experience of ‘degenerative’ power and love – which is what happens when either of these are present by themselves.  Gender and family archetypes can illustrate this well – if you can forgive the stereotypes.  Degenerative power is a father who dedicates himself to work, at the expense of caring for his family.  Degenerative love is a mother who shelters and protects the family, and smothers their drive to realise their own potential.  Generative love and power exist when they are combined with their counterpart.

The important opposition in the book is not actually love and power, which need to be both present – but generative vs degenerative drives.

It is too easy with community to emphasise ‘love’ – particularly with open space and collaborative events.  After all, community is fundamentally about coming together.

Yes, I think in our society that ‘love’ is the undernourished drive.  I joked wistfully with a friend the other day – “a world where people looked out for one another – wouldn’t that be nice.”  I’m sure many of you have thought and felt very similar things.

But balancing love and power is only the first step.  To walk together, we need to learn to combine them.  Having them both, side by side, is not enough – any more than having two legs is enough for us to walk.

Just like walking, Kahane has found that these two drives need to be combined rythmically.  That cocreating our visions requires us to smoothly transition between one and the other, and back again.

So, how can we host an unconference that is generative?  That is about action, but also about unity; that brings people together, but also supports them to take action?

We need to create a space for people to transition back and forth between power and love.

The day of the event will start with our minds – listening, hearing, identifying who and where we are – and also what we are doing and what we want to do.  This is power.

Sharing our visions with one another moves us towards love – taking our power, opening it up for others to share, and drawing one another together.

Finally, as we are drawn together, we need to be mindful of power, and ultimately to move back towards it – how can we shape our conversations towards what we can do, individually and collectively, to take action on these visions that we care about?

It is our challenge to foster conversations that move in this way.  I don’t think it will be easy, but I know that we can make progress together.

John Baxter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *