Wednesday, February 26, 2014

This week's lesson: discipling the powerful

It's not just a question of who has the power.

It's a question of what power they have.

As Malcolm Gladwell pointed in The New Yorker, there are only so many ways to get what you want from others; they include:
  • Potluck: everybody brings what they have; everybody takes what they want. It's share and share alike. 
  • Carpool: yesterday, I drove and you got to ride; today, you drive and I get to ride. Everybody takes their turn.
  • Market: you have something I want; I have something you want . . . so we wheel and deal until we both get what we want.
  • Family: just as parents take care of their children, so too I promise that I will  take care of you. You provide loyalty, in other words, and I'll provide the leadership.
And while Gladwell doesn't discuss the overt threat of violence in his article, any discussion of power should include a fifth option:
  • Mugging: you have something I want -- so give me what I want, and I won't hurt you.
Gladwell notes that most events combine elements from each category; if you're in a Book Club, for instance, then you'll be expected to buy the book (Market) that was recommended by Oprah (Family) so that you can help with the discussion (Potluck) -- and when it's your turn, then you will host the group at your house (Carpool).
And when the host's children interrupt the meeting?
That's when you discover some parents rely heavily on Mugging.
Just saying.
Myself, I've found Gladwell's categories helpful in discussing the nature and uses of power in our church. Once upon a time, for instance, our school was seen as a family (with the Conference as paterfamilias); now many of our parents see it as a market -- a market in which they pay the bills, and so should have more say.
Likewise, you may want to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each approach. Both potlucks and carpools, after all, can be undermined by "free-riders" -- by people who are happy to take, but not to give. Markets require some kind of parity between buyers and sellers. And while the people in management may say that "we run our company like a family," the people on their staff may feel more like the victims of a mugging.
When we talk about power, after all, then we need to talk about the way we use it.
And if you want to know how we use it?
Then look at the way we treat people who don't have it.

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