The dance of power, hierarchy, consensus and authorship

Our relationship to power, authority and hierarchy are fraught. We have been bent to breaking by giving power and authority to others, often without question or consent. The wounds are real. We must heal these relationships, just as we must heal our relationship with money.

Our journey from being a victim of another’s power and authority to finding and standing in our power and authority can take a lifetime.

At Syntropic World, we practice and teach the principle Unity is Plural at a minimum, two. To an up, there is a down. To yin, we have yang.

Polarity is essential for existence. How does polarity apply to the relationship we have to power, authority and hierarchy?

Power

Power in its purest sense is to generate. It is the impulse that creates action. The power to move, act, speak, dance.

What is the complementary pair of power? Its yin to the yang? A complementary pair creates shape and holds a boundary. Power is a force and has direction. Its opposite must act as a constraint.

I am considering responsibility as the complementary pair of power for this article.

When we have power we must also be responsible for our actions.

Yet we know that few in positions of power take any responsibility. On the contrary, they believe that power absolves them of any need to be responsible for the side effects of their power in action. How does power connect to authority and authorship?

Authority and Authorship

Authorship is to author something as an agent. Self-authority is when we are authoring our life, challenging assumptions, and not being a pawn in someone else’s game. Unfortunately, we are all influenced by culture, so that true self-authorship may be extremely rare.

To stand in our authorship and authority is to be clear about boundaries and to ask for what we need to support us without ambiguity. Self-authority is a clear signal. There is no distortion in the transmission. This is who I am, and this is what I stand for. Like power, remembering who we are as authors of our life can take a lifetime.

The complementary pair of self-authority might be consensus.

Consensus

Consensus is to feel together — to come to a general agreement. Authority and consensus co-exist. Consent is from the same etymological root as consensus. To give consent.

An ecology where consensus is the only way will ultimately collapse on itself and fail. A consensus ecology needs its complementary pair: authority and authorship. When consensus and authority/authorship are complimentary used, the ecology for synergy is created. This creates a hierarchy. The question is, what kind of hierarchy? A dominator or natural hierarchy?

Hierarchy

The etymology of hierarchy is interesting. It comes from the ranked division of angels. The rule of the high priest. The ranked order of a person or things by a higher order.

Another way of considering hierarchy is that a force/direction/movement is evident in a hierarchy. The arrow of evolution. This is true for all natural hierarchies. For example, the atom to the molecule to the cell to the organ to the creature. Each level is a whole and a part of a larger whole — a holon. Natural hierarchies are integral to existence. The atom is not superior to the creature. Yet without the atom, the creature does not exist.

Dominator hierarchies do not fit in the same category as natural hierarchies. They are imposed hierarchies, constructed by humans. They exist in their shadow form to maintain control, create artificial superiority, to keep the masses ignorant. They are a ploy used to cause humans to question their authorship and power.

Emergence

As the human race “grows up” emerges from childlike responses and becomes responsible adults and citizens, our relationship to power, authority, consensus and hierarchy changes.

The paradox is that the more mature we become, the less we desire power or authority as a dominating hierarchical force. As we reclaim our power and authority, we are less inclined to step into power positions in the current human landscape. We might want to avoid what comes with those positions that are currently steeped in old structures. We might not want the high levels of responsibility and accountability. And we may not like the attention, the fame, or the trolls.

Many people want the 100% consensus ecology. However, in a pure democracy, for example, where one vote is given equally to everyone, are we willing to give the same vote to the paedophiles and psychopaths, to the people who claim certain races or castes of people as inferior?

By nature, systems designed with 100% consensus will fall back to the mean/average of the people gathered. Or they will get bogged down in collusion and, ultimately, an absence of power as direction. The result: a messy human heap. Stalled, or explosive.

Human relational design is crazy difficult and very complex. We must design for the multitudes of worldviews, levels of maturity, and individual uniqueness.

We need to build in Natural Hierarchies.

We also need to say yes to positions of power. For if we do not, the psychopaths and sociopaths will jump right into the vacuum. They care naught for anyone but themselves.

If not the egomaniacs, the fundamentalists will seize the power vacuum. While they are an advance in maturity on the egomaniacs, they only care about their ideals being gospel. Most of us have some form of fundamentalism built in — this position where we refuse to consider an alternative. We, or our beliefs, are right and the only ones. There is an absolute stance to fundamentalism that precludes optionality. Black or white. No grey. As long as the fundamentalists get their agenda met in the power game, they care not a wit about anyone else.

Those who have an allergy to hierarchy of any kind are also a part of the world’s current problem — where so many egocentric psychopaths and fundamentalists occupy the power vacuum. Note — an allergy to hierarchy is itself a contradiction. No hierarchy actually creates a hierarchy of two.

We want every to agree. For it all to be nice.

Yet evolution has a direction. Its power and movement towards the emergent.

And herein lies the conundrum.

Those of us who have remembered our power and authority, who are comfortable standing in our wholeness as a whole and a part, who are happier standing behind the spotlight rather than stepping into it, must say yes to positions of public power. If we do not, the space will be filled by those who will drag human development back: egomaniacs and fundamentalists.

And those of us who are stuck in the consensus dance must find a way to incorporate Natural Hierarchies and claim our authority. This is not a win-lose game. On the contrary, it is an all-altogether synergistic dance.

How to do all of these things — remember and reclaim our power and authorship — not as dominators, but in Natural hierarchies — spice up consensus with steward leadership and beautiful, clear, strong boundaries — and say yes to positions of public power as we get to work on designing a world that does work for 100% of humanity without ecological offence or the disadvantage of anyone. These are the tools we teach in Syntropic World.

Evolve yourself, remember who you are, stand in your wholeness, become a steward leader, design ecologies for synergy — the marriage of consensus and authorship — take full responsibility for all acts of power and incorporate Natural Hierarchies into all design.

Easy? Not at all. Yet worth every effort.

For a world with a future.

PS. Since I wrote this article, and prior to publication, Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minster, announced her resignation. I read a thread today from many women and some men who stayed publically silent in their backing of Jacinda Ardern because they did not want to deal with the Social Media trolls and hate that would be directed at them for doing so. When we stay silent we become a part of the problem. Change and taking a stand for something is hard and messy. It helps when we do it together, in community. More importantly in a community that holds the space for dignity and diversity of ideas, race, culture and gender while also adhering to strong boundaries that do not have the community disintegrate to the lowest common denominator. This is the role of the Steward Leader and the leadership team. It is, by the way, a natural hierarchy when we get the human relational structure right. The Steward Leader cannot be afraid of their authorship and authority when humans get into small-minded behaviour and unclean communication.

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Syntropic World is a global education and community of practice applying the organising principles of nature to enterprise design and human coordination. Creating ecologies of trust, ensuring integrity in everything, enabling collective sense making, and organising around a central purpose — how to create a world that works for 100% of humanity without ecological offence or the disadvantage of anyone.

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Christine McDougall

Committed to supporting those in business who strive to leave the world better. syntropic.world