Last week I was in Portland, OR.
Portland is one of my favorite places in the whole world. Partly because some of my favorite people in the world live there, partly because of the food (if you go to Portland please eat tacos here, Thai here, Indian street food here, pie here and icecream here) and partly because of all the bike lanes.
I’m coming to realise that I’m a repressed cycle-lover and the only reason I have never fully embraced my love of cycling is that I live in Wellington, a city blessed by steep hills, narrow streets and a Southerly wind that can blow a grown man off his feet. In Portland I rode a borrowed bike everywhere. And loved it.
This year I planned my annual visit to Portland (this was my 7th year in a row visiting PDX) to coincide with a certain summit that you may have heard of. This summit was organised and hosted by Chris Guillebeau, whose work I admire greatly. He’s smart, generous and I know I have a lot to learn from him.
Chris also lives in Portland, which just goes to prove how smart he is.
I decided to attend the summit this year because a lot of people who I like very much were going to be there, and because I really wanted to hear Brene Brown speak in person. If you’ve been reading here for a while you already know that I am a HUGE fan of Brene’s work and that one of my proudest achievements is helping Brene overcome her fear/dislike of yoga. That’s why I’ve got her testimonial for my yoga course on my home page.
I’ve been yoga-phobic my entire life. Marianne Elliott changed that (and my life in the process). She’s one of the best teachers I’ve ever experienced. ~ Dr. Brené Brown
Pretty awesome, huh?
As it turned out, the entry price was worth it just to be in the room while Brene told 1000 people (who were all secretly worried they weren’t cool enough to be there or wouldn’t fit in) that: 1) the only true currency is what we do when we are being uncool, and 2) no-one belongs here more than you. She then got all 1000 of us to sing and dance along to Journey’s Don’t Stop Belivin’, which was conference heaven for a Glee fan like me.
I swear, that woman is going to save the world.
To make things even sweeter, I got to teach yoga under some trees in the park to people who I’d previously only ever met online – including the lovely Sarah J Bray who is as delightful in person as you would imagine from her delightful website and work.
I got to hang out with people who I love, meet people whose work I admire and listen to some very smart people talk about things I care about. All in all, it was a very good time.
The only problem with all this was that I couldn’t bring myself to say the name of this summit out loud.
Fortunately, the name is kind of long so everyone has taken to shortening it to ‘WDS’, which I had no problem saying. This was very helpful because it meant I didn’t have to do charades every time I wanted to refer to the event we were all at.
Are you wondering what my problem is?
Well, there are a lot of possible answers to that question. The first of which is that I am ridiculously stubborn. I blame my father for that. Mostly because he doesn’t get blamed for much, and getting blamed for things is in the father job description.
Another answer is that I care about language. I think the words we choose to use are important. Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf argued that language shapes thoughts and emotions, determining one’s perception of reality, and from what I’ve seen around the world, I agree.
The name of the event is the World Domination Summit.
I’ve never entirely understand why it’s called that. Because Chris really doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who wants to dominate the world or anyone in it. But maybe we have different ideas about what it means to dominate something.
To me (and, as it turns out, most dictionaries) the word ‘dominate’ carries the sense of exercising control or power over someone or something.
I have no problem with power. Especially not if I use Kenneth Boulding’s definition:
Power is the ability to change the future.
I’m all for the ability to change to future. I like us all to have it. That’s largely what human rights is about. The power to change our own future.
My discomfort is with power in the form of domination – which is power over.
Here’s where I get a little bit nerdy about words again. People who study power have distinguished between three types of power.
“Power over” is the ability to dominate another person or group, and it usually comes from force and threat.
“Power to” is the ability to do something on one’s own. It refers to our own abilities, intellect, resources, knowledge and stamina.
“Power with” also reflects ability, but it is the ability to work with others to get something done by cooperation. This is the power of consensus, of people working together.
Domination – or power over – is the form of power that I’ve seen do the most damage in the world. Whereas I’ve seen power to and power with transform relationships, communities and cultural systems, creating more freedom, more justice, and yes – more power – for everyone.
But here’s what’s really interesting.
At the World Domination Summit, what I saw were people almost exclusively interested in developing power to and power with. Which, if you are a word nerd, is a little bit confusing. And – more importantly – if you are a teeny bit stubborn, is a little bit discombobulating. Because when I got out of my own way long enough, I discovered something surprising.
A summit named after domination turns out to actually be about connection.
And about the kind of power with that is possible when we connect with people who share our belief that everyone, everywhere can (and should) have the power to change their own future and the future of the world.
I have a copy of Chris’s new book to giveaway. To be eligible to win a copy of The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau just leave a comment on this post.
Here are some of the things people are saying about this book:
Thoughtful, funny, and compulsively readable, this guide shows how ordinary people can build solid livings, with independence and purpose, on their own terms. ~ Gretchen Rubin
With traditional career doors slamming shut, it’s easy to panic, but Chris Guillebeau sees opportunities everywhere. Making a career out of your passion sounds like a dream, but in this straight-forward, engaging book he shows you how to get it done, one simple step at a time. ~ Alan Paul