The people of Beirut and Lebanon are a beacon of light. This morning, I read an opinion piece in the Financial Times written by Edward Asseily; "Lebanon's reigning emotion is anger not hopelessness" can be accessed here, behind pay-wall (message for pdf version).
Anger is a useful emotion that helps us survive in crisis situations by driving us to act. Asseily writes that individuals hold the key to effecting real change in a country whose government is corrupt and dysfunctional beyond repair at this point. On the ground and around the world, individuals are "creating small points of light that one day will form an illuminated grid that pushes back against darkness and tyranny".
We have built systems and institutions that exercise power from the top down. Top down power is useful when we're trying to enact big changes quickly (think of China and how, according to the World Bank, it has lifted 850 million of its citizens out of poverty in less than an average person's lifetime). But the greatest drawback of concentrated, top down power is its corrupting effects on the individual(s)/institution(s) wielding it, whose main concern becomes safeguarding their hold on this power.
We often think of power as the ability to get people to do what we want, like the economic power to pay someone or donate to a politician, or the ad that preys on your insecurities, or the person or institution who can cause harm, whether it be physical, emotional, economic, relational, or social. This is #coercivepower.
For those of us who have experienced abusive power, we understand only too well the dark side of coercive power. And we may even disown our own power for fear of becoming like the people who caused us suffering.
But what's exciting about Edward's piece is his vision of a distributed, emergent form of power with its source originating from individuals coming into their own power. The benefit of this kind of power structure is that it depends on individual growth rather than on stunting it. It also distributes responsibility (the often-abandoned companion to power). We have a tendancy to assign too much responsibility to others (blaming) while seeking to minimize our own culpability. In doing so, we give up our agency; we give up hope. But when I find myself in situations not to my liking (current state of geopolitics, for example), I've learned to draw inspiration from Reinhold Niebuhr's #SerenityPrayer:
"grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference."
For me, this is real power. When we focus on changing what is in our own power to change and nurturing more of what matters to us, that opens up space for what seemed immovable to shift. Until one day, we (or the generations that follow) find ourselves in an altogether different world. That might even be a world that knows how to keep in check "darkness and tyranny" without mass suffering.