‘You’re More Powerful Than You Think’

Photo: ResistFromDay1
Photo: ResistFromDay1

Whether you’re an agitated activist frustrated with the current state of politics, a civic hacker, government technology entrepreneur or public servant trying change the foundations of democracy from inside or out, “You’re More Powerful Than You Think” is an accessible guide for helping us all rethink what it means to have power and how to obtain it.

Written by Eric Liu, “You’re More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen” is part tutorial, part playbook, part anecdotal, part motivation. With its 9 strategies accompanied by examples from all aspects of the ideological spectrum, Liu’s book is applicable to anyone wanting to impact change who needs empowerment encouragement.

First, to embrace power, we must disassociate the negative connotations around it — i.e. “power hungry” — and accept it is a gift we give. By changing the context in which we discuss it, only then can we fully embrace giving power to others or imagine ourselves being powerful:

“When we see power as a gift, we realize we are perpetually in the position to choose when and whether we will give and to whom — and whether to throw it away or invest it. We perceive anew our own capacity to shape how others respond to us, and thus our capacity to shape the world. We recall that this capacity is ours as humans and citizens, even if circumstances have labeled us second-class humans or citizens. We see that we can remake those circumstances if we share and activate our gift wisely.”

And we must understand its nature in terms of semantics:

“If you are illiterate in power, if you cannot speak the language of who has clout and how it is exercised, you will not even realize you’ve been excluded from the question … Power is a language. It has a grammar and a syntax. It expresses our wants and needs, and is the medium by which those wants and needs are negotiated and addressed. Ignorance of that language is harmful to your aspirations and to your well-being.”

As for justification for the haves, Liu cites research that shows “with greater relative power comes greater sociopathy: more self-centeredness, increased sensitivity to affront, a sense of entitlement, a belief that high status is not just deserved, but natural, deep ignorance about people with less power, a lack of inhibition and respect for social norms.”

And for the have nots:

“People with low power … are more trusting than people with high power. Specifically, they are trusting of the people with high power. Chalk it up to wishful thinking or what psychologists call ‘motivated cognition,’ but when experimental subjects are place in low-power situations, they very much want to believe their high-power counterparts are benevolent and worthy of trust. This hopelessness — not based on any particular evidence — arises mainly out of a desire to evade the discomfort of being at the mercy of the more powerful.”

In order to realize our power potential, we have to experience it firsthand:

“But if we as citizens — and again, here I mean all who are willing to contribute — want to revive the promise of this experiment, we have to get more experience. We have to try power. We have to practice power. We have to practice making power out of thin air.”

Liu closes with a semantic perspective I’ve used many times when people outwardly despise “the government.” Liu says he started replacing “they” with “us.” As I’ve told people in these situations, “we” are “the government.”

“It forces us to admit that we are always the co-creators of the situations we don’t like. It reveals how often and how casually we otherize others. And it reminds us that we are always someone else’s they,” writes Liu.

Practicing “us” and “we” more and executing on the strategies outlined in “You’re More Powerful Than You Think,” in this digital age, any of us can become powerful. We never have to defer to others or accept that it’s unattainable.

As Liu writes, verified by the history of social movements, “it always only takes a few.”

About Luke Fretwell

Luke Fretwell is the founder of GovFresh, co-founder/CEO of ProudCity and co-host of the podcast, The Government We Need. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn or email at luke@govfresh.com.


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