“The truth is that power resides in the people and it is entrusted for the time being in those whom they may choose as their representatives.”
—Gandhi (Mahatma, vol. VI. “Constructive Program,” December, 1941)
“Shared power” is a basic concept in the field of nonviolence that encapsulates the dramatic shift that must take place in our approach to organization and leadership. Sharing power does not necessarily change the forms and structures we have already in place, but it does change the conscious dynamic within those structures. Take a lecture, as an everyday example. You attend a lecture and there is an expert in her field speaking to an audience, and there are many people in the audience who have very powerful gifts and expertise of their own. A power-not-shared, or “power over” model might designate the speaker as the most powerful person in the room. And even if we do not articulate it fully, we might be under the impression that the dominant perception in the room disregards those around us in favor of a talking head.
But look closer, with the eyes of nonviolence, of ‘shared power’ and we might see something else and rather extraordinary taking place: the audience is giving their attention to the speaker, thereby empowering the speaker to share her gift with others. The structure may look hierarchical, but beneath the surface, there is the possibility of a dynamic that is more horizontal and cooperative.
In nonviolence, we do not need to be ideological about what leadership structures look like. We need only to change our awareness of why we choose leaders and how, and be willing to see ourselves as actively participating in the process. Sometimes we are the ones lifted up, and sometimes among those who do the lifting. But we never forget that the person we are lifting is dependent upon our holding them up. If they abuse the opportunity to which they were entrusted, we simply bring them back down, and in the spirit of restorative justice, we might tell them that they can “try again when they are ready.”
Experiment in Nonviolence:
Find one place today where you feel that someone has power over you, and consider the potential of shifting that relationship to one of shared power.