This article first appeared as a weekly column in The Finger Lakes Times (New York):http://www.fltimes.com/opinion/denim-spirit-opportunity-of-powerlessness/article_7edb72d8-d281-11e6-a6fc-03af88220eb9.html
On New Year’s Day 1939, King George VI of England, quoted a little known poem written in 1908 and only privately published, by an economist named Minnie Louise Haskins. Given that the nation had just been thrust into global war, it became immediately inspirational.
“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied:
‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way…’”
Few people these days would recommend holding hands with God as a safer way into the future than the illumination of human technology or science. Unfortunately, too many people today also read poetry with the same literalism they read the direction booklet that comes with a microwave.
The terror at the gate of the new year is powerlessness.
Even those who do not admit to being a control freak – a label given to some though everyone has a thirst for control – dread powerlessness. Standing at the gate of this New Year, those who bitterly opposed Donald Trump are seized with anxiety and alarm, while those who cheered the man and his peculiarities may imagine themselves in control.
The truth be told, there is probably no one alive with a greater sense of powerlessness than the person that sits at the desk in the Oval Office. Just as feeling alone while in a crowd, or in the embrace of a lover, is a ferocious kind of loneliness, the realization of powerlessness when surrounded by the levers of power, may be the most devastating powerlessness of all.
What we know from sagely insight whispered to us over time, is that facing and accepting our powerlessness is the beginning of wisdom. It is not only alcoholics and substance abusers that begin their recovery with that moment of revelation; it is the rest of us as well.
We will re-discover in the months ahead that reactionary forces for and against change mostly cancel each other out. Obama’s hope machine ground to a halt as uncompromising Republican forces arrayed against it increased their effort to resist change. At this moment, minions are at work organizing to halt the advance of the trifecta of Republican power.
Even if less successful than the McConnell-Boehner axis that sabotaged Obama, the anti-Trump forces will succeed in subverting his new minority rule. Forces opposing change are always able to limit the forces promoting change, unless of course there is a total revolution or genocide, in which case it is an entirely different scenario.
Bitter enemies of the past election cycle would do well to face off across their anger and resentments, then acknowledge our need for one another. Linking up, even as adversaries, to work together toward mutual benefit, offers many more opportunities than simply grabbing and exercising coercion for or against change.
Placing our hands into a moment of powerlessness with others we may not like or trust, rather than trying to coerce our will on all those we oppose, is risky opportunity with a potentially big payoff.