In order to address our toughest challenges, we must indeed connect, but this is not enough: we must also grow. – Adam Kahane
Power. Love. What comes to mind when you read those words?
I recently co-facilitated a conference breakout session called “Power and Love: A Primer on Wealth and Family Dynamics.” It was well attended. I imagine folks were drawn in by the evocative title. Participants included financial advisors, attorneys, philanthropic advisors, family business consultants, an ordained minister, and family wealth coaches. An interesting mix.
They discussed thoughts, emotions, and physical reactions to hearing those words.
As you can imagine, power most often elicited thoughts of control, authoritarianism, ego, and a visceral cringe in response to its typically negative connotation. A few folks, however, did have positive associations with power. These included getting things done, engagement, and accomplishment.
Love, on the other hand, was strongly skewed toward positive associations – care, compassion, support, and acceptance. A few people shared word associations suggesting enablement.
While their responses are common and in line with the traditional use of those words, we invited them, at least for the span of the discussion, to utilize a set of different definitions. The definitions are applied at length in Power & Love by Eric Kahane. Kahane utilizes definitions put forth by Paul Tillich, who says power is “the drive of everything living to realize itself, with increasing intensity and extensity.” Love is “the drive towards the unity of the separated.” In other words, power represents the drive for individuality, while love represents the drive toward relationship and connection.
Research has shown, time and again, that humans are literally “wired” for community, or “love” in Kahane’s language. It’s importance is for reasons of both safety and pleasure, each of which is a basic human need.
The importance placed on power (individuality) varies among the cultures of the world. The US places high value on the individual, his or her character, personality, preferences, goals, and well being. In contrast, Asian cultures are highly collective; they emphasize the family. These differences can be seen in matters as small as the common greeting. When an American runs into a friend, the common greeting is “How are you?” The same scenario in Asian countries would elicit a “How is your family?” These are just small illustrations of a significant difference in cultural values.
The emphasis of one or the other is not better or worse. It’s merely different. It’s when these foci are at the extremes of the power-love continuum that problems arise.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said it well:
Power properly understood is nothing but the ability to achieve purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, political, and economic change…. And one of the greatest problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites – polar opposites – so that love is identified with the resignation of power, and power with the denial of love. Now we’ve got to get this thing right. What [we need to realize is] that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. — Martin Luther King, Jr. “Where Do We Go From Here?” (emphasis added)
So how does this relate to your family? Which tends to be emphasized more – power or love? Where do you see yourself on this spectrum? How might leaning in toward the one that comes less naturally enhance the wellbeing of the family and the individuals who comprise it? What is one small step you could take today, to start bringing this shift about?