The Three Types of Power

Most of us forget that there are many types of power. We only think of the harmful power: getting what you want by force or the threat of force. The author Starhawk has come up with a very helpful way to understand power. She writes about three different kinds of power: power over, power with and power from within. The last two of these are the twin engines that drive all social change movements: people working together and believing in themselves.

Power Over -We’re all very familiar with this kind of power. It’s like bullying. One person is able to shove another person around, for whatever reason—because s/he is larger, because s/he has more money, because s/he is the boss, because s/he has more education. Power over is what many consumers feel the service system has. Power over them, power to meet its needs, which may be very different from the needs of the consumer. Power over always has someone under, and that doesn’t feel good.

Power With -This is the power of working together, of strength in numbers. Even when we aren’t very large or we don’t have much money or we aren’t the boss or we don’t have as much education, we can still have power when we work with other people. Power with is available for all of us to use, but it takes planning and imagination to use it. We need to practice ways to use power with in our lives. Using it feels good and makes us strong.

Power from Within -This is the power we get from believing in ourselves, from knowing that other people will help us, and from knowing that we have something important to say or to do. When we know we’re in the right, we have a tremendous power: the power from within. This power is like a deep well within each of us. As we encourage one another, as we share and listen to each other’s stories, as we build up our positive visions and beliefs, as we learn from those who have gone before, we fill up the well inside of us and we become powerful.

Learn to recognize the different kinds of power and begin using the healthy forms of power using the self-led workshop, Reach for the Power Switch: How Ordinary People Can Use Power to Make Change. Visit ACT’s web site at www.selfadvocacy.org and follow links for a description of this workshop or call ACT at 651-641-0297 for more information.