The Paradox of Power Part 2: Fear, Force & False Power

Imagine for a moment a man standing on front of a long line of tanks, unarmed, stopping the forward motion of force of those tanks simply with the power of his presence. This happened twelve years ago in Tiananmen Square. It only lasted a few minutes, but that single act galvanized a movement in a way that a single man firing a machine gun never could. In the face of this kind of power, the force of those tanks looked as oafish as a towering bully waving a baseball bat at a toddler.

And yet, force is what most people think of when they think of power—the struggle to overcome an obstacle, the fight between armies or football teams to win a piece of real estate, the us/them, right/wrong banter of political theater. Mention the right team or issue and just thinking about it can get you revved up. If there’s someone around touting an opposing view, then it’s easy to get so worked up that it would bring some people to blows.

We learn through stories, sports, school competitions and such to associate this revved up feeling with achievement, with winning, with the thrill of the game. We learn to identify this feeling as the opposite of fear, even the antidote to fear. Fear pulls us inward and feels contracting; force is an outward flow of energy, and pushes back. They seem natural opposite, right?

In reality, fear and force are both part of the body’s fight/flight/freeze stress response. On a chemical level fear and force are cousins rather than opposites.

When it comes to power, the world largely works in this fear/force paradigm, as if these two were two opposites, rather than the far ends of the same chemical response. But, in reality, force is a false kind of power. Because it’s part of the fight/flight stress response, it steals from your long-term well-being—from your immune system—in order to give you an extra boost of energy in the present. Of course, you want that boost when you need to outrun a bear, but when you operate full time in the fear and force paradigm, that constant boost can seriously erode your long-term health.

More than that, when you buy into that system of fear and force, you ride very predictable waves. All I need to do is figure out where your fear and force buttons are and I can goose you into doing anything I want. Odd as it sounds, you become safe. Why? You become predictable, controllable. You become a demographic.

So then, if force is false power, what is true power? That’s where this gets really interesting. Stay tuned and find out in part three.

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