In physics, power is defined as, “the rate at which energy is transmitted”. As electricity, it fuels our lives facilitating communication, transportation, and survival.
In sociology, Talcott Parsons defines power as, “a social system’s potential to coordinate human activities and resources in order to accomplish goals”.
If I asked you to define power without specifying the context in which it is being discussed, you would probably give me both definitions, or ask me what I mean by the question. What I have found, however, is that although each definition belongs to a different domain, there seems to be a common thread running through them.
Think about it. They both imply that the integration of power over time produces an outcome.
Thus, if power produces, then that means that power does not take away; it only adds. The issue, however, is that the quality of the outcome produced is not specified by these definitions.
But where am I going with all of this?
Well, I began contemplating about power after a unique definition of it unfolded as I taught a group of kindergartners about electricity. A five year old gentleman explained that, “power is when we have the courage to help others, and when we are nice”.
I was surprised by his description of power. As the instructor for the workshop, my responsibility was to talk about power as electricity in the context of science. But did that mean that I had to dismiss his comment and go straight back to the topic? I smiled back at him and said, “Good job, that’s true! We all have the power to be nice. What are some things that you guys do that are nice?”
After the workshop, I spent the day contemplating about how much room we allow in schools for deep reflections and practices regarding self-awareness and authentic self-expression.
many schools guide students through topics such as morality and happiness, but defining and explaining certain topics is not sufficient for children to learn how to implement them naturally into their lives. It is important to integrate these factors in children’s daily activities in order to promote their sense of self-efficacy, a term coined by Albert Bandura in the 1970s.
Individuals with a strong sense of self-efficacy believe in their capabilities to achieve outcomes. They may feel more secure in their own skin, needing less approval from the outside world, thus having more psychic energy available to explore their inner powers and engage with others positively.
These individuals view power as a positive intrinsic quality that allows them to achieve goals, rather than as a form of control used to secure and organize their inner self from external threats.
In this wise kindergartener’s case, he viewed power as being courageous in order to help others. This understanding that one’s view of power might be directly synced to how we feel about ourselves may help explain some odd behaviors that we see in the world, which helps us understand the importance of promoting self-efficacy in children.
children who internalize negative messages about their behaviors learn to reject their inner self. As they grow older, those marked by low senses of self-efficacy live preoccupied with the self, rigidly searching for perfection in order to reduce mental entropy. Their anxious desire for acceptance may dangerously lead them to view and exert power in the form of control. In a macro level, the exploitation of power creates pathological societies, where the freedom to be, and to accept oneself just as one is, seems impossible. And where the main goal is to achieve and impose power onto others.
Grasping this pattern is crucial for positive transformations in society. as a whole, we generally admire the bold and the unique. We applaud individuals who are courageous enough to show up with all of their parts and vulnerabilities. But the ability to access this internal power, which I define as authenticity, depends on how we help children build their self-efficacy and self-acceptance from a young age. We must signal back to them that what they feel and think is being seen and heard by us. We must let them know that what they feel and think is powerful, and that this power – can be a beautiful creation.
Just as I was presented with an opportunity to hold a space for the kids in the workshop to engage in self-reflection, parents and teachers are faced with similar opportunities every day. We all have the power to convey the true meaning of power to our children – that self-acceptance is the precursor of all patterns of behaviors which lead to a happy life.
As a child psychologist, my hope is that all children will grow up with enough inspiration to feel their inner power and say, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul,” (Ernest, William. Invictus. 1888).