“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” -Alice Walker
I read this quote today while looking for blog ideas. My task list for today (Monday) included, “Plan a week’s worth of blog posts w/ prompts.” So, to quotes, I went. I found this Walker quote in a listicle.
The quote stopped me in my tracks. I hope I’m not guilty of cultural appropriation here. I know, Walker meant it in a specific context.
Still, it stopped me.
I’ve often been guilty of giving up my power, of not speaking up, of giving up too quickly because it seems more comfortable and like a way to keep the peace. I’m a people pleaser who doesn’t like conflict. This is who I am. I can decide to change or decide not to change. Either way, it is a choice. I write my script. I create the narrative.
Walking the talk
I’ve been going through a time of change, of stepping into power and feeling more powerful. This morning I took an action that I should have taken months ago, that would have saved me lots of stress and might have saved someone else sleeplessness. Instead of taking this action, I allowed myself to feel bullied. I allowed myself to get small instead of stepping up and being proactive with a solution.
The action I took was one previously suggested to me with a threatening tone. “Why don’t you…?” I don’t like feeling threatened, but I put my head down. If I had a tail, it would have been between my legs. I want to think I’m not like that. I know I’m not unique in that.
While giving my power away in what didn’t feel like a consensual manner, I acted like a stubborn child. I refused to eat my vegetables at all and spit them out when force-fed (metaphorically, of course). Every so often I’d take a bite, regard them with distaste, nibble some more, swallow large chunks, and push the objectionable food away. The real story doesn’t matter here, and it’s a private matter. You’ll understand the metaphor from your own experience, or you won’t.
Of course, my power transfer was consensual. I felt like I didn’t really have power (control). I wanted to go along to keep the peace, but I also didn’t want to go along at all. It was about perspective and how I positioned myself.
My vague story about the action I took today is just one example of a situation in which I believed that I didn’t have power. In the past, I wanted to think I did, but if I genuinely accepted the idea that I had power, I wouldn’t have played small. I wouldn’t have held back. I wouldn’t have let fear or imposter syndrome or outside negative voices or my inner Gremlins tell me that I lacked.
To quote from a story that I published here on Medium six days ago:
I love you, thank you, you may leave now.
Power and consent
When we give away our power, we’re permitting others to take it. We might not want to, but we still provide that consent. It’s a significant distinction in the conversations about agency over our own bodies, boundaries and the “me too” movement.
Even when we think others have the power, we often (not always) still have some degree of free will. There’s often something we can do. Instead, we go into fight, flight or freeze mode. I tend to fly or freeze.
If you think you don’t have power, you won’t. My interpretation of Walker’s quote makes it similar to a couple of other aphorisms:
Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right. -Henry Ford
And, the controversial,
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Eleanor Roosevelt
We’re responsible for our own feelings, our own sense of power/control. This is especially important for women to remember, but it’s not gender-specific.
People will fuck with us. People will violate us. People will cheat, lie and steal.
But how we react to it is so important. It says a lot about us. Our ability to not be a victim; to be resilient; to not feel inferior; to not think we can’t. Allowing yourself to be a victim gives away your power.
When someone wants control over you, and you allow them to have it, they win.
Also significant: Our ability to forgive, to learn from our mistakes, to not allow past experiences to destroy future ones. As an example of that last one, not letting past relationships ruin our ability to trust or love again. I’ve seen this with both women and men. It’s rare to get through your 20s unscathed, unhurt, unbroken. We fix ourselves and get stronger and hopefully, instead of thinking that everyone is like “that person” — and thus attracting people like them — we find hope and love and our own power. We know that every person is different. We all want love and validation. We all have our experiences and mental garbage.
We move through life with grace. We allow ourselves to love. We delegate.