These days “power” seems synonymous with money, violence and fear.

It conjures images of Wall Street greed, banker bailouts, Kim Jong-un, Putin and #45.

Rather than strategizing or bargaining for power (which is how I’ve believed it is obtained), I’ve actively done the opposite – admonishing and pushing it away.

Power? No, thank you.
I am compassionate.
I am a champion of the powerless!
I believe in humanity.

Actively seeking power has seemed in direct opposition to these ideas. Seeking power meant slithering into back rooms, turning a blind eye, conjuring dirty deals and peddling cheap goods. It meant selling out. If I am granted power it will come when I’m busy doing other things – things that have merited its arrival. Otherwise, I’m content to humbly toil.

It’s not that I’ve championed this belief. That if asked, I could clearly state my perspectives backed with a wealth of resources and examples from personal experience. No, this idea has resided somewhere in my subconscious – the precise place it can do the most damage.

And I don’t think I’m alone.

If you’re a woman, if you’re a person of color, if you identify as part of the LGBTQ community, if you are Muslim, if you are simply “different,” I ask you, what is your relationship with the word power?

Is it something you’ve been taught that you deserve?
Is it something you actively seek?
When you encounter a man who apparently has it, evidenced by his swagger and ability to make his own rules, do you secretly dislike this person?
Does this person represent all the things you’re politely fighting against?

As a woman of color, I’ve been taught that if I’m too passionate, I’m angry. I’ve taken note when others are chastised for responding a little too authentically when their power is stripped.

I’ve known my place.

But staying in place by not seeking what is rightfully deserved directly supports the ideas I’m committed to challenging.  Tricky!  If I eschew power, I essentially am powerless. I cede my influence to those with the dollars who can continue telling the stories that work for them.

The world is in dire need of the voices of the voiceless.

This week I attended The Othering and Belonging Conference organized by the Hass Institute, where I learned where I made a wrong turn.

It is true that there is power in money, power in violence and power in fear.
But it is also true that there is power in community, power in joy, power in humor and power in love.

These kinds of power are weapons of mass intimidation. They cannot be bought, bargained or slithered for, which terrifies those winning in the status quo.
If I or any other bleeding heart, really hopes to champion the powerless, it’s time we get serious about being powerful. Believing that the goodness of our efforts will enable them to prevail is false.

Paper streamers, no matter how lovely, will never take down a cement wall.

And, my friends, we are up against that cement wall.

It took only this quote to turn my views around. How I wish I had come across it sooner.

“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

So what does this mean?

For me it means, finding a balance between the callings of my heart and the realities in my head.
It means seeking efficiency in my efforts and calculating where I can have the greatest influence.
It means strengthening my community.
It means realizing I deserve real resources.
It means listening more deeply.
It means loving across borders.

And it means, cultivating Joy, Love and Laughter and sharing my understanding that these tools are not frivolous but all-powerful weapons for combating the significant challenges ahead.