PAGE IN PROGRESS What you see here is a page of my hypertext book POWER of meanings // MEANINGS of power. Initially empty, this page will slowly be filled with thoughts, notes, and quotes. One day, I will use them to write a coherent entry, similar to these completed pages. See this post to better understand my creative process. Thank you for your interest and patience! :)
First of all, it is important to admit that when we talk about having or using power, we simplify something incredible complex (understanding this complexity is what this project is all ab0ut). Power is really not a thing that one can have or use, it is neither an object nor an entity. However, we are stuck with a certain language of talking about power. In a way, we can say that this language has power over us!
Anyhow, we have to work with the language we have.
The easiest way to understand having power is when we think about it in the first sense discussed here, as an ability. To be more specific, I will talk about mental abilities (as opposed to physical abilities, keeping in mind that the mental–physical division is another huge simplification).
Empathy is a great example for discussing power as mental abilities. Technically, we all have an ability to empathize (except rare cases when this ability is impaired in some individuals), in a sense that we can experience emotions similar to what another person is experiencing, or we can try to understand their experiences and actions (without necessarily excusing these actions). Granted, this is a limited ability, because we can empathize with others only to an extent (see Brené Brown's Atlas of the Heart).
Even keeping in mind the limitation pointed out by Brené Brown, there is potentially a range of empathy that we could use. There is a difference between having the ability to empathize and using it (to the extant that is available to us). To translate this into the language of the project explored on this website, it is one thing to have power of empathy and it is a very different thing to actually use it. My readers could try to recall a situation when they were upset about somebody's actions and did not feel like trying to understand why that other person acted the way they did. You probably told yourself, "I just don't have time for this right now".
As much as I care about empathy, I have found myself in such situations many times. Empathy requires an effort. Despite the fact that we could use it, we sometimes choose not, and often times in these cases it would be unfair to blame us for this choice. Despite the fact that empathy is an ability that we have –a kind of power– using it is not necessarily easy, especially when we are going through complex emotions ourselves.
Speaking of emotions, managing them can be also described as a kind of mental ability, a kind of power. For example, we have a power to manage our anxiety. Admittedly, some may struggle more than others trying to use this power. But many of us (most of us?) have it nonetheless. Not having this ability would put us at a serious evolutionary disadvantage. But using this power is not the same as having it. It requires an effort, and often also a certain knowledge (knowledge that that we have this power and knowledge about ways to use it).