What Five-letter Word Can't You Live Without?
What Five-letter Word Can't You Live Without?
By Frances Moore Lappé / commondreams.org

Here it is: Power. Now, quick, before reading further, close your eyes. What associations come to mind? If your list is full words like coercion, force, guns, oppression, domination, money, you could be in big trouble.

Turns out, our very idea of power can rob us of it. In its Latin root, posse, means simply the capacity to act. If to turn our planet toward life we need more and more of us to exert power, even more energetically and thoughtfully, but our associations with the very concept of power are all negative...then that's a problem. A big one.

So let's rethink. What is power?

Power is creating. It is making things happen. And it is perhaps the most under-appreciated human need. Most experts on what we need to be happy, beyond physical needs, stress the importance of satisfying personal relationships, security, and meaning. But Erich Fromm gets it right in my view. Of humanity he writes, "[Man] is driven to make his imprint on the world, to transform and to change, and not only to be transformed and changed..."

And if we can't make our imprint positively, says Fromm, we try something else:

"If... man is not able to act [he attempts] to restore his capacity. . . . One way is to submit to and identify with a person or group having power. . . . The other way... [is] to destroy."

And in today's world, proof of his wisdom feels ever more evident.

So the pressing question for our species: Can we consciously reframe this deep need for agency in ways that align with life? Can we shift from control as the primary expression of power to experience power as co-creating with nature?

Co-creating power takes discipline. And I don't mean just getting oneself to the voting booth or installing a solar panel. I mean mental discipline--continually examining our own assumptions and refusing to go on repeating messages that aren't working: Messages that simply blame corporations, for example, without also offering practical pathways to remove them from their controlling political role. "Anti-bad-guys-messages" can help us feel virtuous and release justifiable anger, but alone they can't work.

Co-creating power means staying open and keeping in touch with our inner two-year-old's "Why, why, why?"

Such co-creating power is expanding in part through largely unseen but growing citizen organizations, including Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC), whose 5,000 plus members take on challenges from toxic dumping to making government more open; in 2010, they were key to halting a new coal plant in their state. Jean True, a KFTC leader in the 1990s, told me, "I was home raising kids for ten years. I didn't know anything about politics. I thought my only job was to vote."

When I asked Jean to tell me why she joined KFTC, she responded, "It's just the fun! That you can get together some regular people, go to the capitol, and make changes in state policy...We have a great time going toe to toe and head to head with state legislators. We sometimes know more than they do! It's the fun of power -- the ant knocking over the buffalo."

On the other side of the world in the year 2000, I danced with women in a Kenyan village, feeling the exuberant happiness in their new found power as village tree planters -- part of the Greenbelt Movement that has planted over 50 million trees.

So, accomplishing humanity's biggest-ever feat -- tackling both poverty and climate chaos via real democracy -- may just depend on our shedding the myths now stripping us of power and, with the exuberance of dancing Kenyan tree planters, joining in Jean True's kind of power.

We can do it.

We can do it if we do the work -- the good work of checking our failing frames at the door and walking into a new space: There, in our ecological home, we're all connected. So, guess what?

We're all implicated. That might not sound good, but it is.

For the notion of power as a divisible pie -- "If he has it, I don't" -- dissolves and we see that no one is every utterly powerless. Even entities as vast as the U.S. Pentagon or as wealthy as Exxon, with its $30,000-a-minute profit, are being shaped moment to moment through our own assumptions about what's possible and by our daily roles in this magnificent life-and-death drama.

"Thinking like an ecosystem," what I love to call "eco-mind"--and realizing our interconnectedness, suddenly, we see the sources of power available to almost all of us at any moment. Here are ten to mull:

  • The power of curiosity: What most piques my curiosity and inspires me to learn more? How can I best pursue my curiosity?
  • The power of connection: Whom can I reach out to right now -- friends, strangers, groups--to help keep me going?
  • The power of frame and language: What is one piece of my current mental map--my core assumptions about life--I can reframe to free myself? What words do I use that keep my thinking mired in the world of separateness, lack, and loss? And what new words will allow me to see connection, strength and possibility?
  • The power of action: What is one act I can take right now to align my life with the world I want and make me more powerful?
  • The power of agitation: What disturbs me? How can I transform that disturbance into energy for action?
  • The power of self-awareness: What is an important strength I already have -- knowledge, contacts, moral courage -- that I can share? How do I grow my strengths? How do I use my strengths to empower others?
  • The power of daily attention: What is one change I can adopt right now that enriches my life because it reminds me every day of my embeddedness in nature?
  • The power of inspiration: Who are my heroes -- my everyday heroes -- and how can I bring them more fully into my life? How can I myself act in a way that I can become a hero to myself and inspire others?
  • The power of embracing fear: What is one risk I could take now to enhance my creative power?
  • The power of organization: How can I join and strengthen groups that aligned with a frame of possibility?

In other words, with an eco-mind, the only choice we don't have is whether to change the world. We are changing it every day. Recognizing our power, we can be tough. We can challenge any message telling us we can't have real democracy so just give up on government, or scolding us for being greedy or apathetic, when most of us want to be part of the solution.

Claiming our power as co-creators, we can together speed an evolving and immensely liberating ecology of hope.

Adapted from EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think to Create the World We Want (New in paperback from Nation Books)

Frances Moore Lappé

Frances Moore Lappé is the author of EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think to Create the World We Want (Nation Books) and 17 other books including the acclaimed Diet for a Small Planet.


3.5 ·
What's Next
Trending Today
F*ck That: A Guided Meditation for the Realities of Today's World
2 min · 12,026 views today · Just acknowledge that all that sh*t is f*cking b*llshit — you're here now, in this place, with your inner stillness. Take in a deep breath ... now breathe out. Just feel the...
Noam Chomsky Has 'Never Seen Anything Like This'
Chris Hedges · 7,875 views today · Noam Chomsky is America’s greatest intellectual. His massive body of work, which includes nearly 100 books, has for decades deflated and exposed the lies of the power elite...
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 6,875 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
Who I'm Voting For...
3 min · 5,552 views today · Prince Ea announces who he's voting for. It's probably not who you think.
Free Trade Explained In An Excellent Comic
Michael Goodwin, Illustrated by Dan E. Burr · 4,268 views today · The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) are the latest in a long line...
25 Mind-Twisting Optical Illusion Paintings by Rob Gonsalves
Dovas · 3,698 views today · The beautiful and mind-bending illusions in Canadian artist Robert Gonsalves’ paintings have a fun way of twisting your perception and causing you to question what in his...
Forget Shorter Showers: Why Personal Change Does Not Equal Political Change (2015)
11 min · 2,663 views today · Would any sane person think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday; or that chopping...
Open Up - Have the Difficult But Important Conversations With Loved Ones
5 min · 2,650 views today · “The biggest casualty of humanity is the lack of communication, it’s the thing that breaks most relationships. It just feels so much better to talk and get it out.” There is...
#Hypernormalisation - Why Heathrow Plan Is Proof We Exist in a Catastrophic Fantasyland
Matthew Adams · 2,248 views today · The British government recently gave the green light for Heathrow airport’s third runway. It was heralded by its supporters as a vital boost for jobs and growth – and proof...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,558 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 1,490 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
'Maritime Graveyard': 2016 Deadliest Year Ever for Refugees Crossing Mediterranean
Deirdre Fulton · 1,415 views today · "From one death for every 269 arrivals last year, in 2016 the likelihood of dying has spiraled to one in 88," says UNHCR spokesman
The Empire Vs. The People - Police Attack and Arrest Peaceful Protestors at the Dakota Access Pipeline
6 min · 1,334 views today · On October 22, just before dawn, hundreds of people, including many families, gathered and prepared to march toward the Dakota Access pipeline construction site near Standing...
Dinosaur explains Trump policies better than Trump!
8 min · 1,151 views today · Donald Trump is actually the corporate triceratops, Mr. Richfield, from the 90's TV show sitcom, "Dinosaurs". 
The Burden of the New Story
Adebayo Akomolafe · 1,001 views today · The 'new story' - that longed for milieu when all is right with the world and things are set straight - seems to be taking its sweet time coming. Why?
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 702 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Ode to Lesvos
5 min · 701 views today · An inspiring story of a few remarkable heroes on the Island of Lesvos who helped almost half a million refugees in 2015 has been documented in a new short film called Ode to...
These Incredible Stories Remind Us of Our Better Selves
36 min · 632 views today · #WhoWeAre is a campaign to share the stories of people whose actions show us compassion and to send a message of empathy, hope and optimism. These videos will automatically...
HyperNormalisation (2016)
161 min · 468 views today · We live in a time of great uncertainty and confusion. Events keep happening that seem inexplicable and out of control. Donald Trump, Brexit, the War in Syria, the endless...
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 423 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
What Five-letter Word Can't You Live Without?