Text and Photography By      

Alan Briskin

San Francisco – California





On Power And Cosmic Companionship




Sitting in a workshop on inclusion and diversity, author Fredrick Miller commented on his 40 years heralding change.  “I came to see my belief in fundamental change happening during my lifetime as a form of arrogance.”  His comment suggested a different kind of faith.  It recalled to mind a tenet of Martin Luther King Jr,’s essay on non-violence, “An Experiment in Love”.  King declared that “non-violent resistance … is based on the conviction that the universe is on the side of justice.  Consequently, the believer in non-violence has deep faith in the future.”


To have faith in a future in which justice prevails requires either a naïve personality or something else.  When we subtract naïvety from the equation – King was certainly not naïve – we are confronted with a new formulation that adds power to related ideas of love and justice.


Sadly, we are all too familiar with the tendency of power to distort into domination.  But King understood this phenomenon from his own experience, including the manipulation of legal instruments to reinforce social injustice.  “Power without love is reckless and abusive,” he wrote, “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.”


The question of power should fascinate us not only for its paradoxical qualities but because the human will to express itself is fundamental. Power is a necessary ingredient for those who desire to rise from the bog of social conformity and express something essential about themselves.  In social contexts, it is the ability for a sub-group to assert or resist actions within the larger collective body.  Power, as the theologian Paul Tillich stressed, is about the dynamic self-affirmation of life.  There is a drive in each of us to realize our own essential being and to resist forces that would rip it from us.  Power need not be a force of domination when we understand it as an evolutionary energy helping us realize the affirmation of all life. 


The pursuit of justice, love, and power is not a short-term goal to be achieved in one lifetime.  We are seeking to unite what has become estranged:  love, power, and justice. It is when we recognize these essential forces as one that we become aligned with something greater.  King noted that the faith he speaks of allows for a future possibility in which no one is dominated and all can even accept suffering without retaliation.


“For he knows,” King writes, “that in his struggle for justice he has cosmic companionship.”


Further reading –


A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.

King, Martin Luther


Love, Power and Justice by Paul Tillich


Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change by Adam Kahane


The Power of Collective Wisdom by Alan Briskin, Sheryl Erickson, John Ott, Tom Callanan









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