Q: How can we say we have power when we live in a world where other people are constantly trying to screw us over?
To dismiss the reality of our own personal power by pointing out the existence of competing forces is to misunderstand a fundamental fact about the nature of power.
Being powerful isn’t the same thing as being unopposed.
When you take a look at the world around you, you will see that every single state of affairs, even the peaceful ones, is expressing the outcome of a power struggle.
Consider, for example, a glass of water sitting on a kitchen table. What keeps the glass from floating around the room as it would in outer space? The power of gravity. If there were no gravity, the glass of water would not be able to rest on the table. In order to move the glass, you would need to apply an amount of force that’s greater than the amount of force holding it to the table. Every time you drink a glass of water, you are using your power to resist or overcome a contrasting force.
In Classical Physics, this is known as Newton’s First Law of Motion:
Sometimes referred to as the law of inertia. An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.
The basic idea here is that you cannot create any form of change unless you first overcome the force (inertia) that’s keeping things the way they are.
Why do things remain the same? Things remain the same because of a force that holds them in place.
Why do things change? Things change because the force that holds them in place is eventually overcome by a greater force.
For every force that works to hold things in place, there is a competing force that is working to create a new arrangement of possibilities. For every force that is working to create a new arrangement of possibilities, there is a competing force that is working to hold things in place.
So whether things are changing or remaining the same, things are the way they are because one source of power is successfully resisting or overcoming another source of power.
Here’s the key idea:
All forms of power are constantly being challenged and contested by other forms of power.
Your personal power is not an exception to this law.
If you wish to sit still, you must overcome the forces that wish to make you get up and move to the beat of their drum. If you wish to get up and move freely, you must overcome the forces that wish to make you stay in your place. Either way, you’re not going to find a lifestyle that exempts you from facing resistance.
What does it even mean to have power if there is no act of creative expression through which such power can be displayed? And what does it even mean to create if there is no inertia to be overcome, no entropy to be resisted, or no force to be reversed or redirected? The reality of opposition doesn’t disprove the existence of your personal power, it confirms it.
If you were truly powerless, you would feel no such thing as resistance. You would be like a mindless little leaf blowing freely in whatever direction the wind takes you. The reason you feel things like frustration and anger is precisely because you have something within you that refuses to lie down. You have something within you that insists on rebelling against any attempts to extinguish your freedom.
Newton’s third law states, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
When you make a push forward, the world pushes back.
We are powerful, but we are not unopposed. Having an impact on the world is possible, but it’s not painless. Overcoming the forces that resist your freedom is worth the fight, but that also means you’re probably going to take some serious blows along the way.
The pushback is real. Just don’t let it trick you into seeing yourself as a pushover.