Friday, July 9, 2010

The Power Give Away

I have a pet peeve. It’s the statement: “well, nothing I can do about it,” usually given in response to news of government corruption or environmental disaster. For me it’s the ultimate of victimhood; it screams powerlessness. And, in terms of this blog’s nom de guerre, it allows another to take over thereby fulfilling the partnership requirements of codependence.

Codependence takes two to tangle. The partner can be a person, career, religion or a pet— anything outside of our self, that we instill hopes and dreams to fulfill some internal need. The following is an oversimplified example using the intrinsic need to feel self worth. “Sharon” does not feel loved or, shall we say, worthy of love. In search for a remedy she gives her love to “Bill” in hopes that he will love her back. Bill also has a sense of unworthiness but for him it manifests in terms of powerlessness and, because of his self-judged shortcomings, he rejects Sharon’s love. Sharon finds her love rejected and concludes it is because she hasn’t loved Bill “enough”. She works harder at loving him “better” and, ironically, finds a renewed sense of purpose – it increases her sense of self worth. Bill, on the other hand, finds a sense of power in Sharon’s behaviour — it makes him feel worthy: the more he rejects Sharon, the harder she tries and the more powerful he feels. The relationship becomes based on two people feeling unworthy but feeding each other in such a way that superficially fills, much like candy given to a hungry child will, each other’s needs. One gives; one takes: the codependent partnership is complete.

Let’s look at it from another perspective using the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as an example. In 2001, BP did an internal review of their Alaska operations and “found that the company wasn't maintaining safety equipment and faced ‘a fundamental lack of trust’ among workers.” Six years later in a follow-up study, “[n]early 80 percent of the workers interviewed … said that gas and fire detection systems -- perhaps the most important equipment to saving lives and among the most critical in preventing an environmental disaster -- were either not functioning or were obsolete [and that] 50 percent of everything that was originally brought up was not fixed, it was ignored." . The end result? We now have a disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

In reading that, one could say, “well, nothing I can do about it. BP is a powerful company, they do what they want to do.” Sure enough, but who gives them that power? They have the power because we, North Americans as a whole, want oil. We want oil because it makes us feel indirectly powerful: we can drive a car; keep the house warm, use plastic in all its many conveniences, produce fertilizers and pesticides, and run our businesses. Oil helps us to live a life to which we have grown accustomed and in that we feel powerful. But it’s a false power. It is false because we have, in fact, given our power over to multinational cororations whose eminent concern is not our standard of living but of money. We give them the power for obvious and rational reasons: as individuals we do not have the ability to extract oil; its convenient to let someone else do it; they say they are going to be ethical and environmentally concerned; and, ultimately, we feel powerless with such overwhelming concerns.

Corporations, such as BP, take the power because power (and control) can exponentially produce more money. And, just as it’s a false sense of power that we feel when driving our cars, it’s a false sense of powerlessness that says we have no control over the inadequacies and failures of companies such as BP. We have given them that control, we have given them our power.

How can we take back that power?

We can take back our power by letting go or decreasing our need for oil. Ask yourself: am I really feeling empowered by having 20,000 to 50,000 barrels of oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico every day so that I can drive a car? Are thousands of dead birds really worth the convenience of plastic? Do I really need to create a dead zone in the Gulf so I can live with this false sense of power?

I am not saying here that we should be martyrs and give it all up. I am saying, however, that we can take back the power by being less needy. We can cut back on the driving: use a car pool, buy a bike; take transit. We can do without that new plastic doo-dah and buy oil free products. We can lobby our governments to find alternative fuel sources and monitor projects in our own back yard such as the Alberta Oil Sands. In short, we can be more conscious of how our false sense of power impacts the rest of the world.

Giving someone else power so that we, however indirectly, feel empowered has the potential to work quite well on a temporary basis. However, in the long term it only spells disaster. Power, like love, respect and safety, must first be directed towards self: if we feel empowered we wont need to look for power in commodities such as cars, other people or in corporations. Codependence relationships are based on looking outside ourselves for what we need most to give to our self. In people it destroys intimacy and within governments and corporations, it has the potential to destroy our environment.


  1. This is a "powerful" piece! I never thought of co-dependence in this way. It is something that will help me see with re-newed vision in the future. Thanks!