One of my favorite quotes of all time is Michel Foucault’s – “The strategic adversary is fascism… the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.”
The quote initially seems to be political in nature, but I think it goes much deeper than that. It is talking about how humans live and the contradictory nature of our desires. I believe that every person wishes to be free. That is, not to be impeded in their attempts to realize their goals. Many people in the world do not have freedom – they are impeded by political, sociological, and economic forces. They are oppressed. I believe that the vast majority of the people in the world are oppressed, including many of us in the developed world.
However, even the oppressed often oppress others in one fashion or another. That is, take away freedom from another person for the sake of realizing their goals or boosting their egos. This can take many forms – parents pushing their children to go to a certain college, a husband telling his wife she needs to quit her job to take better care of the kids, a girlfriend telling her boyfriend she’ll dump him unless he proposes and so on.
To me, this is the most fascinating aspect of power. That is, how and how often we use it in relationships with people we love.
It’s quite possible that avoiding the use of power is impossible. In almost any situation, one person has more leverage than another. What’s particularly sad though is that we often don’t realize the subtle ways in which we manipulate other people, or if we do use our power consciously we only think of what we stand to gain, not what the other person stands to lose. What they lose, in my opinion is their sense of control over their own lives – their freedom. It is a humiliating defeat for that person that over time can erode their sense of self.
I have never thought of myself to be as the kind of person who seeks power over others, at least not directly. However, what’s difficult for me to understand is the consequences of my actions on other people. Am I unfairly influencing other people? Are they making a decision because it’s best for them or is it because of my approval/disapproval? I know how it feels on the receiving end, but it’s so hard to imagine how it feels when I’m the one forcing the decision on another person. Are they making the decision or are they reacting based on what they think I want the answer to be?
Though it’s hard to answer for other people, I can answer for myself. I have realized that I have been in a relationship where I have been under pressure to be a person other than myself. There was very little concern about how I felt about the things I was asked to do for the sake of relationship. I feel good about choosing not to bow to that sort of pressure anymore. However, a few questions still linger. To what extend did I pressure her? Did I force her to make choices by taking things for granted? Was her decision to pressure me based on the pressure she felt herself (from me or from society)? These questions will probably be forever unresolved. However, what I want to ask myself in the future is when I make decision is: Am I trying to exercise my power or my freedom? Do I want something from this person or do I want something from myself?
To me, this is the crux of an equal relationship. Essentially, it means to let other people be themselves.