Power and Love – Adam Cahane on solving complex issues

In this video Adam Cahane is speaking from his experience as an expert in social change about the dynamics of power and love. Adam to me is a source for inspiration of whom I’ve lesarned much about working in the field of social change and a friend whom I’ve learned to know through my involvement in ALIA Europe.

Here I also post written text from Adam Cahane on how to deal with complexity and social change. I’ve edited a little bit. The original text and his latest book “Power and Love” can be found here: http://reospartners.com/news-view/215

“Our two most common ways of trying to address our toughest social challenges are the extreme ones: aggressive war and submissive peace. Neither of these ways works. We can try, using our guns or money or votes, to push through what we want, regardless of what others want—but inevitably the others push back. Or we can try not to push anything on anyone—but that leaves our situation just as it is.

These extreme ways are extremely common, on all scales. One on one, we can be pushy or conflict averse. At work, we can be bossy or “go along to get along.” In our communities, we can set things up so that they are the way we want them to be, or we can abdicate. In national affairs, we can make deals to get our way, or we can let others have their way. In international relations—whether the challenge is climate change or trade rules or peace in the Middle East—we can try to impose our solutions on everyone else, or we can negotiate endlessly.

These extreme, common ways of trying to address our toughest social challenges usually fail, leaving us stuck and in pain. There are many exceptions to these generalizations about the prevalence of these extreme ways, but the fact that these are exceptions proves the general rule.

We need—and many people are working on developing—different, uncommon ways of addressing social challenges: ways beyond these degenerative forms of war and peace…

…To co-create new social realities, we have to work with two distinct fundamental forces that are in tension: power and love. This assertion requires an explanation because the words power and love are defined by so many different people in so many different ways.

In our work we apply the ontological definitions of power and love from theologian and philosopher Paul Tillich. They deal with what and why power and love are, rather than what they enable or produce. We use these definitions because they ring true with our experiences of what in practice is required to address tough challenges at all levels: individual, group, community, society.

Tillich defines power as “the drive of everything living to realize itself, with increasing intensity and extensity.” So power in this sense is the drive to achieve one’s purpose, to get one’s job done, to grow.
He defines love as “the drive towards the unity of the separated.” So love in this sense is the drive to reconnect and make whole that which has become or appears fragmented.

These two ways of looking at power and love, rather than the more common ideas of oppressive power and romantic love are at the core of this work.

A challenge is tough when it is complex in three ways. A challenge is dynamically complex when cause and effect are interdependent and far apart in space and time; such challenges cannot successfully be addressed piece by piece, but only by seeing the system as a whole. A challenge is socially complex when the actors involved have different perspectives and interests; such challenges cannot successfully be addressed by experts or authorities, but only with the engagement of the actors themselves. And a challenge is generatively complex when its future is fundamentally unfamiliar and undetermined; such challenges cannot successfully be addressed by applying “best practice” solutions from the past, but only by growing new, “next practice” solutions.

The fullness of our world produces this threefold complexity. We can pretend that we are independent and that what we do does not affect others (and what others do does not affect us), but this is not true. We can pretend that everybody sees things the same way, or that our differences can be resolved purely through market or political or legal competition, but this is not true. And we can pretend that we can do things the way we always have, or that we can first figure out and then execute the correct answer, but this is not true.

When we pretend that our world is empty rather than full, and that our challenges are simple rather than complex, we get stuck. If we want to get unstuck, we need to acknowledge our interdependence, cooperate, and feel our way forward. We need therefore to employ not only our power but also our love. If this sounds easy, it is not. It is difficult and dangerous.

Power and love are difficult to work with because each of them has two sides. Power has a generative side and a degenerative side, and—less obviously—love also has a generative side and a degenerative side.

Power without love produces scorched-earth war that destroys everything we hold dear. Love without power produces lifeless peace that leaves us stuck in place. Both of these are terrible outcomes. We need to find a better way.

Love is what makes power generative instead of degenerative. Power is what makes love generative instead of degenerative. Power and love are therefore exactly complementary. In order for each to achieve its full potential, it needs the other.

One of the greatest practitioners of nonviolent social change, Martin Luther King Jr., was both a practical activist and a spiritual leader. He demonstrated a way of addressing tough social challenges that went beyond aggressive war and submissive peace, thereby contributing to the creation of new social realities in the United States and around the world.

In his last presidential speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King—drawing on his doctoral studies of Tillich’s work—emphasized the essential complementarity between power and love. “Power without love is reckless and abusive,” King said, “and love without power is sentimental and anemic.”

Power without love is reckless and abusive. If those of us engaged in social change act to realize ourselves without recognizing that we and others are interdependent, the result will at best be insensitive and at worst, oppressive or even genocidal. And love without power is sentimental and anemic. If we recognize our interdependence and act to unify our social groups, but do so in a way that hobbles our own or others’ growth, the result will at best be ineffectual and at worst, deceitfully reinforcing of the status quo.

Power without love produces scorched-earth war that destroys everything we hold dear. Love without power produces lifeless peace that leaves us stuck in place. Both of these are terrible outcomes. We need to find a better way.

In his speech, King went on to say: “This collision of immoral power with powerless morality constitutes the major crisis of our time.” This collision continues because our polarization of power and love continues. In our societies and communities and organizations, and within each of us, we usually find a “power camp” that pays attention to interests and differences, and a “love camp” that pays attention to connections and commonalities. The collision between these two camps—in the worlds of business, politics, and social change, among others—impedes our ability to make progress on our toughest social challenges.

Power and love stand at right angles and delineate the space of social change. If we want to get unstuck and to move around this space—if we want to address our toughest challenges—we must understand and work with both of these drives.

Rather than a choice to be made one way or another, power and love constitute a permanent dilemma that must be reconciled continuously and creatively. This reconciliation is easy in theory but hard in practice. Carl Jung doubted whether it was even possible for these two drives to coexist in the same person: “Where love reigns, there is no will to power; and where the will power is paramount, love is lacking. The one is but the shadow of the other.” His student Robert Johnson said, “Probably the most troublesome pair of opposites that we can try to reconcile is love and power. Our modern world is torn to shreds by this dichotomy and one finds many more failures than successes in the attempt to reconcile them.”

If we are to succeed in co-creating new social realities, we cannot choose between power and love. We must choose both.”

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About Alain B. Volz

Alain Volz M.Sc. (1969) - Social Economy Entrepreneur, founder and director of ATMA - has studied Business Administration and Organizational Psychology. He started his career with Royal Dutch Ahold and has worked with IPMMC and TC&O. For 10 years Alain has been working with Twynstra Gudde Consultants and Managers as senior consultant Human Talent & Change Management. He was responsible for Competency Based Human Talent Management. He is co-founder of the Center for Human Emergence in the Netherlands (CHE), a former member of the CHE alignment circle and founding director of CHE School of Synnervation (currently Synnervate). In 2011 he held the position of partner with the RnR Group in Maarn. Alain is Strategy & Alignment Officer at Dipaliya Women's Association in Tamale, Ghana. In the Netherlands he is board member of the committee for the position of women and minorities in the Dutch Democratic Party (D66 Thema Afdeling V/M Sociale Innovatie). As such he represented D66 in the PVO; a cross party National committee consisting of represents from 6 different political parties (CDA, CU, D66, Groen Links, PvdA, VVD). The office of ATMA is located at the ImpactHub Amsterdam & the ImpactHub Accra.
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One Response to Power and Love – Adam Cahane on solving complex issues

  1. Roel says:

    Very nice post, Alain ! Loved reading it and enjoyed the resonance it had on many levels. See you soon to elaborate on it.

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