Saturday, August 28, 2010

Power Dynamics

Few topics are more relevant to almost every aspect of our lives than power dynamics. In almost any situation where people come together, there will be people in more dominant and people in more submissive positions. BDSM-style Dominance & Submission is a process of intentionally creating artificial power dynamics for the enjoyment and satisfaction of the participants, but these dynamics occur naturally everywhere.

There are some situations where the dynamics are fairly obvious: a boss and employees, parent and child, etc. However, often the dynamics become more complex.

Power Struggles and Control
In many situations, the lines of authority can become blurred. Imagine a situation where parents lose control of their children. Even when power dynamics should be obvious, there are always ways for authority to slip away from the dominant position, such as a parent who loses credibility in the eyes of their children through hypocrisy, or a teacher or boss who undermines their authority with capricious and unfair discipline.

In many of the situations described above, the authority figure takes power, rather than having power given to them. An employee submits to the boss because it is necessary, but not always because he respects the boss enough to choose to submit. This will always result in a non-ideal situation. The boss' authority is always in doubt. Those who are forced to submit, only do so because of the external and titular authority that the boss has. If the boss' position ever comes to be in doubt, he will discover that power taken is only as strong as the authority by which one has taken it.

Earning Power, Giving Power
The best way to gain power is to earn it. This means developing respect in the subordinate such that they would gladly submit voluntarily, not just because they have to but because they want to. One might subordinate themselves for any number of reasons. They could do so because the authority figure makes them feel that he cares for them. It could be that the one that they give respect has earned it through competence and achievement. Or, it could be for any number of other reasons.

The important thing is the loyalty that this kind of power dynamic creates. A subordinate who respects a leader will support that leader in rough times as well as smooth. He might even follow the leader if the leader were to leave the organization. This is true loyalty, not just following orders.

Power Dynamics in Romantic Relationships
Relationship power dynamics are fairly similar, except that power which is taken is not only a recipe for a weaker connection, but it is unhealthy. No one in a relationship should ever subordinate themselves because they feel that they have to. Unfortunately, this often happens for a number of reasons. It can be economic, where one party is bringing in the money and the other is financially dependent. It can be emotional, where one holds the emotional cards and the other is afraid to lose their partner that they will do anything to stay. These situations only become uneven power dynamics if the party with the power chooses to use it to create the dynamic. There are plenty of relationships where one person makes much more money but they still treat it as an even partnership, making it perfectly healthy.

On the other hand, a healthy power dynamic can be created when power is given. One partner may choose to submit to the other. They may do this for a specific time or in specific arenas or it can be overall throughout the relationship. This can be sexual, as in a D/s relationship, but it can also be non-sexual. A man who brings home the paycheck but his wife handles the finances is an example. He is giving her the power to control the purse-strings because of his esteem for her abilities. On the other hand, she may yield to him the power to represent the family in business matters because she respects his abilities to negotiate. In this case, there is a power dynamic. Each person gets some control over the other, but this control is given voluntarily, and can be revoked if it is every abused or misused, creating a healthy situation.

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