In the movie, Pursuit of Happyness, Christopher Gardner (played by actor Will Smith) had a dream. A true story, the film is the quintessential American rags-to-riches story. A story of a single dad devoted to raising his son out of poverty. There are times when Chris and his son sleep in men’s shelters, on the subway and even on public bathrooms floors. But Chris’ determination, resilience, and relational power lead him to earn a job position out of poverty and into what Chris would call, “a life of happiness”.
What makes Christopher Gardner break the cycle of poverty? It was his personal power he claimed over his life circumstances.
Throughout history power has been defined as something someone has over another person not as something that every person could claim for themselves regardless of social standing. Sociologist Max Weber (1947) defines power based on one’s ability to impose his or her personal will on another human being. Philosopher, Karl Marx (1978) suggest that power is based on economic class.
Unfortunately, I believe these definitions have formed our human response to how we respond to our surrounding circumstances. I agree more with Brenda Allen (2004) quote of Michael Foucault’s theory of power which says, “Power resides in every perception, every judgment, every act” (p. 25). Foucault uses the term, “relations of power” to describe the system of power that exist in a web of interconnected people (Allen, 2004, p. 25). In other words, we all have power that we act upon based on our self-identity.
For example: In a relationship, one person may exerts power by yelling, another person may exhibit power by withdrawing and withholding love. One is an outward expression of power and one is an inward expression of power. From the outside it may look like one person is oppressed but in reality, both hold power in this relationship.
Power relations not only exist in families and community but also in the workplace. You may be in a position right now where you feel you hold no power. Maybe it is power struggle in your marriage, pocket book, or race or gender inequality at your work place. There are many examples I could name.
The important thing to remember is that you are not powerless. You were born with a right to dignity, love, and YES, even happiness. Every action or decision you make OR DO NOT MAKE is an act of power.
As you think about the way you will act upon the power you have today, don’t forget Christopher Gardner’s message:
“You got a dream…[in your marriage, community, workplace] You gotta protect it. People can’t do somethin’ themselves, they wanna tell you you can’t do it. If you want somethin’, go get it. Period” (Muccino, 2006).