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Good Morning Families, today is Thursday June 4th, 2020 and it is now time for a moment of SEL.
Today we continue learning about bullying. Learning about bullying and having language to understand and express emotion information brought about by bullying behaviors is very important for students because it helps kids participate and engage in the current social conversation, happening in our country. Today we are talking about a very important part of what defines bullying by learning about power and power imbalance.
First let’s start with a definition of power. We will take this definition from the science of sociology and in particular from the department of sociology at Case Western Reserve University, “Sociology is the study of social life, social change, and the social causes and consequences of human behavior. Sociologists investigate the structure of groups, organizations, and societies, and how people interact within these contexts.”
In working to understand how people interact, sociologists often think about and research power. The most common definition of power comes from one of the founders of modern sociology, Max Weber who defined it as “the ability to control others, events, or resources; to make happen what one wants to happen in spite of obstacles, resistance, or opposition. Power is the ability to influence others to believe, behave, or to value as those in power desire them to or to strengthen, validate, or confirm present beliefs, behaviors, or values.”
So, power can be found in people with influence. Like popular Youtubers, teachers, politicians, business leaders, police officers, famous people. A lot of time power comes with a title. Like parent, citizen, fire chief, business owner, nurse, lawyer, influencer. All of those titles give you an understanding of how those people might have some power. Many people work very, very hard to earn a title and achieve some amount of power. Having personal power, that is having influence over yourself and your life, is a very important part of developing into a healthy person. Once people have power it can be very scary and hurtful to think that they could lose that power or have that power decreased in some way.
Personal power is very important and working hard to earn or gain personal power can bring really positive emotion information. I worked hard to earn the title of school counselor, and musician, and husband, and father and those titles have power. The power I worked hard to earn is maintained by both how hard I continue to work to be a good school counselor, how hard I work to maintain healthy relationships with my loved ones and the behaviors I choose.
But power isn’t always earned through hard work, power can also be given based on who a person’s parents were or what group they were born into. In fact, that’s what people mean when they talk about privilege. Privilege means being given power without doing anything to earn it. In our society, power is not given evenly. Some social categories are given more power than others.
That is what we call power imbalance. That means, it’s not balanced. That means it’s not even on both or all sides. Not everyone has it the same way. It’s wobbly. Go on talker!
Some social groups are privileged to be given greater power than others. Many of the social groups I belong to are privileged to be given more power. A few of those categories are male, light skin, heterosexual, Judeo-Christian, cisgender. Those categories are all things that I was born into by my family and those categories all come with more power in our society then other categories; male more than female, lighter skin more than darker skin, heterosexual more than homosexual, etc…If you belong to those categories with me, then you also have access to that power and you know we didn’t expend any energy to get it. The power we were given is maintained by social management devices.
This is why understanding the SEL skill of social management is so important. Social management refers to the devices that people have made to help people interact with others. These would be things like laws, codes, rules, norms, expectations and they can be both written and unwritten, and they can be really clear for everyone or secretly coded and known to only some. Whatever they are, they are designed to help societies function. Social management devices are most always designed by people with power, because designing a social management device is a form of power, and often whether recognized or not, the management plans are designed to maintain that power.
If power is not evenly given and some have more than others, then it can be that laws and rules or other social management devices, are designed, at least in part, to maintain that power imbalance. In our case we have laws in our community that tell us how to act. We also have police to help enforce those laws. Police are essential to maintaining a healthy society. Police do not make laws they only enforce the laws that are already made and if those laws are made to keep some people in power and some people without power, then the police become the enforcement of this system, not the cause of it.
Let’s look at the behavior choices again of Amy Cooper as a demonstration of this because she gives us a great example of how well people know everything we’ve just talked about.
Amy Cooper has light skin and her gender presentation is female. She took her dog for a walk in a park. In the park she decided to not follow the rules of the park, (that’s the social management plan of the park) by letting her dog off the leash. Christian Cooper (no relations to Amy) was birdwatching. His gender presentation is male, and he has darker skin. Even though his maleness contains more power than her femaleness, her lighter skin trumps both his maleness and his darker skin. Confusing, I know, but hang in there. He asked her to follow the social management plan of the park. She refused. Emotion information increased and then spilled over and Amy decided to threaten Christian with calling the police.
But as we know from yesterday, telling the police the truth about what was happening, would not have increased her power, in fact, that would have decreased her power. But she knew this, so instead she chose to make up a story about being in danger. She also made sure to threaten Christian with drawing particular attention to the color of his skin and his gender presentation, knowing that both of these categories are the opposite of what the social management plan was designed to protect the most which is light skin and, in this case, female presentation. By ensuring the police knew that an “African American man” was threatening her she was not just describing his skin color or his gender presentation, she was also telling them of his status of power in relation to the management plan. The potential outcome being that the police would arrive prepared to protect her as is their duty. Essentially, she was trying to turn the police into the physical object of her threat.
Remember, power is about the ability to influence the behavior of others. And remember, intimidation, a form of physical and social bullying is a way to get people to do what you want, by threatening their bodies with harm. In this way Amy was using the threat of the known power imbalance to influence Christian to leave her alone so she could continue to break the social management rules of the park.
That can be really confusing, but that’s how power imbalance can work. You don’t have to be bigger or tougher to have it, you only need to know how to use systems to work for you. Amy knows systems. Bullies know systems. That’s how even people who are not the biggest or the fastest or the strongest are able to bully others.
For today, see if you can spot any places in your life where you have power. Anything you have worked to achieve is a form of power. Start with what you have worked for. See if you can see the ways in which you have influence from that work. Here’s a hint, you are working in school. That is powerful. It is helping you gain academic and personal social and career and college readiness skills. With those skills you can go on a do great things.
You have also been given the title of student. That also has tremendous power, particularly in controlling how much you learn. And how much you learn can help you gain more personal power. And, the more personal power you gain, the more you will be able to help us all work to make sure that all people get equitable access to power. That it is balanced. You can do it by helping create healthier social management plans. So read, and write, and talk with trusted adults. Keep building that personal power.
We look forward to connecting with you in whatever way we can tomorrow. Until tomorrow may your thoughts and feelings be with you.