Creating Change through Dialogue: Balancing the Polarities of Power and Love
Adam Kahane’s powerful, 2010 book Power and Love: The Theory and Practice of Social Change brings together two theories and practices that I believe will inform the work we need to do now and in the future to address the critical needs of human existence in the 21st century and beyond. This work centers around addressing the systemic and relational problems that limit our ability to live in harmony with each other and with nature.
Many people recognize today that we are facing failure in our social, governmental, organizational, and natural systems. While transformative change is occurring in many places, we sit on the edge of catastrophic events that can immediately and radically change the world we live in. President Obama must feel this way as he attempts to use the dynamic of power and love to influence the U.S. Congress to raise the debt ceiling. While everyone knows there is no choice in this decision, our governmental system which many would say has served us fairly well for over 200 years, was based on the assumption that dialogue and negation could influence good decision making.
Yet, relationships of mutual respect and trust are needed for dialogue to support the creation of a field of mutual learning and influence. The flow of dialogue is based on a good balance of inquiry and advocacy, much in the same way Kahane speaks about the balance of power as the desire—or will to achieve one’s purpose—and love—the urge to unite with others. I often talk about the center of that balance being our desire to seek, to understand, and to share our understanding.
When we enter into dialogue from a place of understanding rather than knowing, I believe we are more open to listening with a willingness to be influenced. It is a place where care or love supports our openness to different perspectives and enables us to learn from others. When we enter into relationships and conversations from a place of knowing, I think we are more likely going to focus on influencing, or convincing others that our perspective or position is right. We are operating from a place of power which may or may not be well balancing with love.
We are living with many polarities in our lives and we cannot necessarily assume that what worked in the past, or seemed right given different conditions, will work or be the right decision for the present or future. There are no easy answers to the challenging and complex problems we face today. There is much to learn and that learning will come through how we engage with each other, bringing our values and passions together with our curiosity and willingness to learn.
Kahane’s book is filled with powerful stories of engagement that shifted from power and love being out of balance to seeking the right balance of these polarities and transforming human systems. The tension that resides between the polarities of power and love should be embraced rather than avoided. Some questions that might guide one’s path forward in being part of this change area:
What do I deeply care about and how am I taking action in support of that?
What do I need to learn to further my understanding of what is needed?
How am I engaging with others in ways that support learning and mutual influence?
How can we bring our power and love together to create needed change?