Developing Political Will

  By Diane Kennedy Pike


Not long ago I was introduced to a man who is running for Superintendent of Public Instruction in Arizona. He has taken leave from Arizona State University where he has been a professor for many years to serve in the state legislature and now to run for office.

As we engaged in conversation, I asked him how liked politics. He said he didn’t, but that he realized that most college-educated people don’t, and therefore we leave politics to others who find it less objectionable. He said he considers it to be one of his responsibilities to confront what he believes is an elitist attitude among college-educated people. They don’t want to “dirty their hands” by getting into power-struggles and lobbying efforts. They don’t want to stand out in the sun with petitions, or spend their free time out talking to so-called ordinary citizens.

I felt “nailed” by his comments. I was in process of my next level of work with our Homeowners Association, which has been my workshop for personal growth for nine years now. In Life As A Waking Dream fashion, I had asked myself why the Homeowners Association continued to impinge on my consciousness after all these years? Why was I still dreaming this dream? The comments made by this candidate for public office spoke from within the same waking dream.

Exercising Power

I have been uncomfortable with exercising power ever since college. I witnessed then what I considered to be an abuse of power. In order to avoid making the same mistake myself, I chose to shun power. Or so I thought. What I actually did was to withdraw from leadership within organizations.

When a woman who had done several workshops with OSO and me in the 1980’s raised the issue of how I used my power in our sessions, I was in a state of denial. It was very hard for me to recognize that I had power. I had not wanted the responsibility of exercising it.

For several years I studied power and how it is viewed and used in any context where there is an inherent hierarchy based on position, role, knowledge, education, wealth, or race/nationality. Gradually I accepted the responsibility for my side of relationships in which the power scales seemed to weigh heavier on my side. I believe I have achieved greater balance in most of those situations.

It has only been in these last months, however, that I have turned my attention to the power of personality, and that is one of the factors that has been mirrored for me in the person of the current president of our Homeowners Association. He is a powerful personality, and he has used that power to bully people.

I have long owned the fact that I was a bully when I was a child. I had no respect for weak personalities and I was unkind to them in many ways. In my teen years I sublimated my bullying tactics into the exercise of leadership. I ran for office in every organization I belonged to and eventually rose to the top position in almost all of them. Based on those activities, I was granted a leadership scholarship to Stanford University.

At Stanford, I observed an adult leader become the focus of a youth program. Everything revolved around him. He was always the center of attention. I felt this focus distorted the program and made it difficult for the young people to develop their own potential for leadership. I recognized that I had the potential to become such a focus of attention, and I vowed not to do so.

When I was sharing these thoughts with a group of friends recently, they laughed. They said I was kidding myself. That I am a powerful person whether I think I am or not and that I have a lot of influence over people. So I began to reexamine my self-perception. Although I am not yet totally comfortable with owning such personal power, I am working on it. I am seeking to exercise that power of influence consciously in all contexts rather than denying that I have it. In true waking dream fashion, I find our Homeowners Association president less objectionable the more I own my own personal power. I don’t want to embody my inner bully, but I do want to express consciously the power I have.

Dealing with Ordinary Citizens

Although my conscious values do not support these attitudes, I recognize that I have often felt contempt for “ordinary citizens” when I relate to them as an abstract label rather than as human beings. Believing that I held more enlightened positions on issues and that candidates that represent my values are superior to those that don’t, I have often not respected those who vote the opposite points of view. In our Homeowners Association, I have felt this same disdain for those who hold values that are very different from my own.

I do not like recognizing these attitudes and feelings, but it is time for me to own up to them so that I can move beyond them.

I recognize that I need to set aside my preferences and my opinions in order to see the whole picture in any given situation. And when I have inner clarity about what there is for me to do, I must be willing to participate according to the rules of the political realm. I can’t try to function by rules that would apply in groups where everyone seeks to function in consciousness and in love. I cannot feel that I am “above” such interactions.

Instead, I need to learn how to engage dispassionately and yet with passion for the issue. This is a difficult balance to maintain. I am working on merging the qualities of two senses of self: the peacemaker and the warrior. The result is a passionate and compassionate leader sense of self who has courage to put herself on the front line of issues that matter to her and not take the flak personally.

There was a scene in a TV movie on HBO last year that offered me an image that stirred my imagination. The movie was called “Band of Brothers.” Toward the end of the Second World War, these “brothers” came upon a Nazi concentration camp. They had no idea what it was. When the prisoners came out of their barracks, looking like walking skeletons, the men were at first horrified and then deeply compassionate. They wanted to feed these men. They wanted to set them free.

A commanding officer came up to one of the officers of the Band of Brothers and said: “You must tell all these prisoners to return to their barracks until we find out what to do with them. We cannot just let them go. They will die on their way to help.”  The young man said, “I can’t do that. I can’t tell them to return to those barracks.” He recognized what a blow this would be when for the first time the prisoners had glimpsed real hope.

The commanding officer said simply, “You will.”  The young man gave the prisoners the disheartening command to return to their barracks. When the prisoners turned to go, the young officer wept.

This speaks to me of compassionate leadership. We must do that which is difficult with the larger picture in view. But we never stop feeling with those who are affected by our action and our inaction.

Political Will

Living in a small community of forty homes has given me an opportunity to look contradictions directly in the face. For example, when I meet my neighbors on the street, I see them as the individual persons they are. I get along with all of them.

When we meet in the context of Homeowner meetings, however, it is another story. Suddenly it is as if we all go faceless. Instead we represent “positions” on given issues. It has been a shock to me that antipathies arise and get expressed in vehement ways. Although I do my best to communicate consciously and calmly, others accuse me of “spewing hatred” and “causing conflict and dissention” in the community when I question certain policies of the Board of Directors.

I have nursed a distaste for such arguments and conflicts. I have often said I don’t have a stomach for politics. But I have been reevaluating and I think what I am really saying is that it has been more important to me to be liked than to hold to principle. It’s time to get over that.

Recently OSO and I read a spiritual biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. It was an inspiration to read how he dealt with his inner conflicts when he and his family received hate mail and phone calls and death threats because of his role in the Civil Rights Movement. Many times he wanted to abandon the cause, feeling it was not worth putting his family through such experiences. But inevitably, when he took his doubts into prayer, he was fortified to go forward. He remained true to his convictions and principles.

I have also been inspired by my brother Scott Kennedy who, for the last thirty years, has worked for peace in the Middle East, championing the cause of nonviolent resolution of conflict. He has steadfastly worked for peace in an area where things seem to get worse rather than better. It would be so easy just to give up and call it hopeless. But he doesn’t.

So I have been practicing in my little home community, strengthening my political will. It takes a lot for me to consider it important enough to continue to work for what I believe is right and good. Even when I can see that change has come about because of my efforts, it is hard for me to sustain my commitment. Clearly my will is not very strong in the communal arena.

Just this week the Board of Directors instituted a time for informal discussion before their meetings. This is one of the things we have asked for over the years, but until Arleen and I held three Community Forums in our own living room to provide homeowners with an opportunity to come together to talk about issues that concern them, the Board of Directors took no action. Now they have instituted a change.

Similarly, we had asked for better communication in the community from the Board. Their attitude was that homeowners could come to the Board meetings if they wanted to know what was going on. So Arleen and I started a little newsletter called “In the Loop.” We put several issues out, delivering them by hand to people’s doors. After the third issue, the president began to put out a newsletter from the Board, and it is quite good.

So, by being the change we wanted to see happen, we have gotten results. But we have also been the brunt of denouncements at each Board meeting and in e-mail communications. We are called troublemakers. The President of the Board says we are creating division in the community and that we will not let the community heal.

When these comments are reported to me, my impulse is to walk away in disgust. To stay the course requires not taking the criticisms personally even though they are directed right at us. The President even lobbies people who have supported us in our efforts, trying to get them to turn against us.

I am lucky to have Arleen at my side. She is not susceptible to these remarks in the same way I am. She doesn’t care what others think of her. She is focused on the issue and the principle. I am trying to learn not to care, too! But most of all, I want to work as hard for what I believe is good for the community as I do for what I know is good for me in my personal life and growth. I want to develop my political will and my tolerance for “dirty politics.”

Part of the Whole

I feel I lived in a kind of cocoon for twenty-one years. I was so busy with my work with people who wanted to grow in consciousness that I did not get involved in any community causes.

When we moved to Scottsdale, the first thing that happened was that we were invited to work in Iowa with a Community Action organization. That threw us into the public arena for the first time in a long time. I also ran for the Board of Directors of our Homeowners Association, thinking that I could help create a congenial environment for us to live in. Many struggles ensued.

I have learned a lot. I realize that I had let my leadership skills grow rusty, and that I had perhaps never developed political will. I recognize now that to bring about any change at the group level takes tremendous commitment. First, there must be a vision of what is possible. Then, there must be a willingness to sustain that vision through all the stages: presentation of it, support for it, organizing practical programs to implement it, recruiting others to participate in the programs, spending hours talking with people, carrying on when you feel you are the only one who cares, not allowing criticism, rumors, and name-calling to discourage you, allowing others to get the credit when what you envisioned finally begins to manifest, and supporting those who are willing to carry on the vision now that it has become a reality. This is how I would define political will.

I am practicing here in my little community of forty homes in case I am ever asked to take on something in the larger community. I have no fantasies of what might be asked of me, but I want to be ready. Having discovered that my political will was very weak, I definitely want to strengthen it.

This is my current growing edge. Perhaps it is the impact of 9/11, the War on Terrorism, and the violence in the Middle East that have evoked this new level of commitment in me. I have been earnestly asking inwardly what more I can do to transform violence with Love. Developing my political will is the first thing I have seen I could do to further prepare myself. I see it as an essential element, for me, in developing the ability to be a Celebrant.

What first steps are you taking towards becoming a Celebrant?


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