We need to keep in mind that those in power want to maintain the current beliefs that are beneficial to them. This goes for anyone in power who wants things to stay the same, if not for any other reason than it is benefiting the people in power. You don’t know that something isn’t working, if it always seems to be working for you. In very simplistic terms this makes sense. If a new group rises to power, they will also try to maintain it by working to maintain the beliefs that keep them in power. It’s a natural state of power-holders.
There are three elements in maintaining social power: decision making, maintaining beliefs, and setting agendas. To maintain power, all three of these must be leveraged in their favor. A simple example of how setting agendas can have ripple effects is to think of a professional work environment. At my work, whoever calls the meeting typically writes up the agenda. This may seem like an innocent action. What happens, is that only what that host wants to discuss gets discussed. Controlling the scenario whether intentionally or not. An agenda that is built by asking each participant what they would like to add removes a level of control on the discussion.
Now I’m at my meeting with my agenda. I lead the meeting as well since I did call the meeting. We go down the agenda and people have opportunities to talk. At the end, I take all the suggestions and say thank you and will let them know what decisions get made. Now I’ve controlled the decisions by controlling the agenda. This may seem like a simplistic example, however, it provides a good example of what typically takes place at meetings. And aren’t meetings pretty important? It’s where we meet with other organizations, other individuals to plan projects and strategies. Yes, decisions get made at those meetings by other people that are there besides the host. People that were given the ability/right/privilege to decide. People that were given the privilege to even attend the meeting. What matters here is who isn’t present; who didn’t get to make a decision or participate in that decision. Another example is a national leadership group I became a part of. During the interview I found out that this group was originally only open to executive directors. That’s controlling the conversation.
Decision making and agenda setting can also provide a false sense of control. This is typically where activists function and the people in power want them to remain because sustained change does not come from here. Decision making is based on our experiences which are driven by beliefs. Maintaining beliefs is where the change needs to be if it is to be systemic. It is our paradigms that keep us where we are at. It is the things we believe in that make us do what we do. Beliefs are what make up our culture – these are the things which control the agenda, the decisions made and who is even invited. However, if we are willing to expand our paradigms or are open to them being changed, then we begin to relinquish control. In this space we don’t forcibly maintain our beliefs. We let go. This means whoever wants to build the agenda can participate; whoever wants to participate in the decisions can. When this happens, beliefs change, transform and social change begins.
In every group, organization, society and profession, the culture defines the agendas that shape the decisions that maintain the culture … and so on around and around to maintain a distribution of power and benefits. But these arrangements are fragile for they depend on constantly renewing and reinforcing the beliefs and desires that legitimate the dominate paradigm which tends to distribute power unequally. Because of this inequality in power, those who benefit disproportionately are always engaged in the conscious, and unconscious, maintenance of the current dominate culture. This is something to also be clear on: that the dominate culture is constantly being reinforced unconsciously and consciously. Sometimes, if we are not careful with our words or actions, we can find ourselves guilty of reinforcing the very culture we are trying to challenge.
This is the
long-term answer. To create any sustained change, we must get at the paradigms we believe
to be true. Not to tell people that they are wrong
or should believe something else, but to find ways of accessing people
so that they see how the differing paradigms fit or not fit. We can move towards this, but it will take a
great amount of time to shift these because it potentially includes changing ourselves. No small task. It can be done.