We are a divided nation. And the chasm seems vast. As a cautionary tale for those with
hopes of ‘fixing’ or ‘healing’ our differences, we might consider the wisdom of Adam
Kahane. He is a consultant who has been called to many corners of the world to
facilitate gatherings that aspire to cross great divides. To post- civil war Guatemala, to
post-apartheid South Africa, to India and Israel – to countries and leaders wrestling with
problems of warring factions, cultural schisms, and political stalemates. He has worked
with problematic separations on the global level for 20 years. In his early efforts,
Kahane says that his facilitating methods were based on love— on opening and
connecting with the intention of ‘making whole that which had become or appeared to
be fragmented’. But what he discovered, after reflecting on a few disappointing
outcomes, was that even after love had established common ground among the various
stakeholders, the unity that had been painstakingly gained fell apart because of the
failure to take power issues into account. Kahane writes*:
“I had been assuming that what was common was more important than what was
different…I had seen in my own behavior… a conflict-averse love that disempowered
others and denied my own power…
Describing one unsuccessful effort in the Philippines, Kahane noted that
“we had focused most of our attention on unity, not on the different and conflicting
positions and interests of the participating groups…The acrimonious collapse of the
workshop agreements produced not merely failure, but a regression.”
I think we would like to believe that love conquers all, that if we are caring enough, kind
enough, patient enough, compassionate enough that things- whatever the separations-
will be healed. That love SHOULD be enough. But Kahane quotes Martin Luther King
who said that love without power is sentimental and anemic and power without love is
reckless and abusive.
This distinction between love and power separates on many levels. I recognize it’s force
in my own life.
I grew up in a home where children were to be seen and not heard, where girls
especially were to be quiet. This was an explicit message, repeated in many
circumstances by my father and embodied in the relationship between my parents. My
mother was love; my father was power. No surprise then that I married power just as my
mom had. Perhaps I believed that I wouldn’t have to develop my own, that as a couple
we were a whole–but I was young, in love and unaware of any unconscious dynamics.
It turns out that establishing my power and his corresponding movement toward love
have been the great challenges of our marriage as well as defining the growth path for
each of us as individuals.
We loved each other- yes-, though this was not enough to bridge this gap between us.
Like Kahane, I, too, was conflict averse—and frightened of having my sense of
worthlessness confirmed. Philip on the other hand struggled to see himself as
fundamentally good. He had to work through doubts and prickly sensitivities. It was only
as we began to discover within ourselves the capacity for what the other brought to the
relationship- and then work to cultivate that capacity- that we were able to find a path to
a more complete acceptance of each other.
In working to counter our conditioned behaviors and reactive patterns, Philip and I were-
and are- mending the way in which we had separated from ourselves. Kahane calls this
a form of power—power as the drive of every living thing to realize itself. The power of
the human urge to individuate. My drive to find my own power; Philip’s drive to touch
into his loving nature.
And that urge to individuate- to be realized- is the source of diversity that must be
acknowledged not only in personal growth but between factions in communities, in
political parties and in this country.
I am not saying that love cannot heal. It’s evident that love often speeds healing, that
without love, wounds may remain open and painful, that love has fostered miracle
cures. But if we choose to bypass differences on the way to resolution, we are
assuming a conformity that may not exist. Sometimes it may simply be the easy way out
or as Kahane said, a risk-averse path.
Whether we call it love and power, or any other pair that names differences—male-
female, black- white, Democrats-Republicans ——it is about bringing all of what IS to
the table, shining the light of awareness on the parts, acknowledging, respecting,
allowing them to mix it up while holding them in a container of intention and caring.
Each must feel its own integrity, find its own voice, speak its own truth and in the
cacophony, create a reality that will honor its participation.
* from Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change by Adam Kahane
Whether all is really lost
or not depends entirely on
whether or not I am lost…
Vaclav Havel from Life Prayers
“…when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we
are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”