Power-within and Community


The power within model is based on the fundamental interdependence of humans and their ability to cooperate out of mutual caring.i It builds on the idea that the identity of persons and their ability to develop individuality depends on mutual relationships where the caring for each other is greater than the fear for the self.ii In the ideal community everyone is recognized as a fellow human and the care for others dominates self concerns. In existent communities it seems clear that the values, attitudes and behaviors required by a culture of peace are best learned in a context of the mutual caring. This mutual caring is the basis of friendship and existent community is a source of identity, belonging and security, and a bulwark against dominating economic and political powers. Since the model requires fostering the cultivation of self-sacrifice, compassion, love, welfare of the other, inclusiveness, and collaboration, it is furthered by family, religious, and secular education that provide the tools of personal transformation that enable the caring, compassion, forbearance, forgiveness, and overcoming of fear needed for mutual friendships.

The sociology of Frank Hearniii establishes how a generalized mutuality forms the basis for understanding communities in a way that can be contrasted with markets and states. There work shows how the power-within model is enabled by the sense of mutual obligation, trust and solidarity that is central to the many mutual projects involved in community. On this less personal level it is expressed by a “spontaneous sociability” or generalized trust, obligation and responsibility that facilitate cooperation. Sometimes termed “social capital”, this mutuality depends on the relations among people expressed in mutual expectations, norms of reciprocity, and practices of mutual aid involved in families, civic clubs, Little League teams, church suppers and whenever there is shared responsibility for collective undertakings. The communitarian interdependencies and horizontal ties of mutual cooperation develop civic trust. Communities with these ties function differently than those that rely on vertical ties of dependence and exploitation. They need less to rely on centralized state power than on individualistic societies, and have less suspicion of outsiders than familistic societies that depend on family based enterprises which may lead to authoritarian rule. Hence the ability to govern a state with a power-to model ultimately depends on the civic trust that is developed in local communities. These interdependencies and community coherence may be encouraged by:

  1. The establishment of credit unions, worker cooperatives, mutual aid associations, and community owned enterprises.

  2. The promotion of b-corporations whose boards include community members with an interest in community welfare and not simply profits.

  3. The establishment of Community college centers which can address local concerns, encourage music and the arts, provide opportunities, and offer an acceptable student status for adults who are cannot find employment in current market conditions.iv

Hearn point out that community rests on the social institutions and practices and norms involved in marriage, parenting and citizenship. These involve ideals, statuses, and obligations that depend on personal relationships and provide a sense of solidarity that cannot be provided by markets (which help persons to meet self-interests) or states (which enable the assurance of rights). The mutuality, solidarity, trust, obligations, gratitude, and responsibility that is at the basis of a sense of community is most trusted when regarded as sacred duties and most valued when they are seen as freely given gifts. To the extent they are contracted in the market or required by the state they are cheapened and although the dominant ideology of liberalism frees individuals from the constraints of traditional community, it appears to be damaging the very base of social capital. Just as mothering involves a giving that generates a child’s basic trust, the giving of gifts in society generates gratitude and reinforces a generosity that supports trust, interdependence and responsibility and a generalized obligation and solidarity that goes beyond enlightened self-interest. Hence, for individuals to have souls (rather than simply interests and rights) they must rely on each other rather than the state or market. Since current capitalistic economics requires more aid than persons can voluntarily supply, the importance of gift giving suggests that the state should use taxes to fund voluntary self-governing associations that can give to those in need (voluntary gift giving) in ways that encourage the gratitude of interdependence rather than resentment of dependence.

In recent years, the legal establishment has begun to understand privacy in terms of the right of individuals to have privacy. However, persons as persons only exist in relationships and traditional law recognizes the rights of mutual privacy. This sense needs to be restored to avoid a loss of soul.

Since many forces have diminished the viability of traditional communities, Gardiner has suggested that we build new communities in our lives by developing the necessary aspects of community.v He suggests ten essential ingredients and how they may be developed:

  1. Wholeness that incorporates diversity by leaders encouraging negotiation to solve the large problems facing the community

  2. A base of shared values that can be developed by dialogue among those from different faiths. For example, members from Baha’i, Buddhist, Eastern Orthodox, Episcopal, Hindu, Jewish, Moslem, Protestant, Quaker, and Roman Catholic faiths in Worcester, Massachusetts, USA agreed that they valued: Optimism and hope for the future, compassion, respect for all cultures and faiths, acceptance of responsibility, civility in dealing with disagreement, honesty, and courage.

  3. Caring, trust, and teamwork by encouraging shared tasks, volunteer opportunities, and mechanisms for dispute resolution

  4. Effective internal communication by encouraging open and civil discourse in the media and among different groups of people The importance of primary local groups needs to be balanced by a public life that can check particularism and lead people to consider the interests of all from the perspective of what is good for the whole. Hence, it is helpful to encourage centers of social interaction which locate people from different groups in interdependencies that nourish trust and morality.

  5. Political participation encouraged by civic education, the consideration of sub-group needs, forums, and systems of run off voting.

  6. Affirmation with ceremonies and celebrations reaffirming community identity

  7. Links beyond the community with collaborative ties among the leaders of different communities

  8. Development of young people with cooperative education encouraging the taking responsibility for the well-being of any group to which they belong.

  9. A forward view that involves different segments of the community in studying future challenges to its overall well-being.

  10. Institutional arrangements for community maintenance by encouraging continual collaboration between local government, business, and neighborhood associations.

In order to coordinate activity so it is effective, to insure fairness, and to control violence communities operate with some system of governance. The model clearly requires people to accept responsibility for governance in the context of a community of mutual caring and faces the challenge posed by the fact that many do not wish to devote much time to the negotiations that are needed. When a community is small enough to have face to face meetings, it is possible to nonviolently select a leader or council to govern affairs and decisions may be made by a mutually agreed upon process of consensus or voting. The degree to which the governance can operate with a power-within model depends on the extent to which caring prevails over fear. This is crucial. The balance appears to be influenced by important structural factors that often depend on features of the larger society and culture. For example: in village societies there is far less violence in those requiring men to move into the village of the women they marry. And there is much more happiness in societies that are structured so that power is obtained by helping rather than hurting others. Again, there is far less heroin addiction and delinquency in neighborhoods which are able to intact normative systems.vi These structural factors, which often depend on larger state governance, along with the need to resolve conflicts among different communities require a consideration of the power-to model.


Human Rights and the Transition from Power-over to Power-to

i Desmond Tutu (1999) speaks of the life force generated in relationships. He refers to the word ubantu which in the Nguni group of languages signifies “the very essence of being human.” A person with ubantu imparts compassion and generosity, gentleness and hospitality, and the ability to share, because it “means my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours” (pp. 34 & 35). I am because you are. A person becomes a person through other persons.
ii John Macmurray (1961). Persons in relation. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press.
 Frank Hearn, F. (1997). Moral order and social disorder: The American search for a civil Society. New York, NY: Aldine de Gruyter.
 Cf M. J. Lerner (1997) Preventing the societal crises of failed expectations and threatened self esteem in the new economies: A proposal for helping the “generation at risk” Social Justice Research, Volume 10, 2. Pp.241-252)
 John W. Gardener. Building community
 See Otterbein, K. F. (2009). The anthropology of war: Long Grove, IL. Waveland Press; Maslow, Abraham H., (1977) . The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. New York: Penguin; de Rivera, J. H. (1986). The “objective-behavioral” environment of Isidor Chein: In memory of a humanistic scientist. Environment and Behavior, 18, 95-108.