MLK Jr.’s Revolutionary Words on Love and Power

Photo by Unseen Histories on Unsplash

When you observe the relationships of others or even your own, one thing you might notice is how people change when they enter a new romance.

Some people become happier, more blissful or more carefree. Some might become more jittery and defensive because they have something to protect. Over time their behaviors may shift again and then we see an even greater range of behaviors. People become lethargic and inattentive while others become more domineering. Others grow more passive and they shrink once in the presence of their partner.

People are different and the inner struggle for each of us is going to be different because we live different lives. As a result of this, people are going to deal with their problems in different ways.

Carl Jung once wrote that love and the will to power are opposites. If love is present, the will to power is absent. If the will to power is present, love is absent. Basically what Jung was saying was that if one tries to utilize force to get what one wants because they believe they should have more, they are not acting out of love.

I agreed with the sentiment and added that if this is the case, then freedom is the essence of love. If I prevent someone from being who they are, can I say that I love them? If I need them to act in a particular way, is that for their benefit or for my own?

After reminding myself of this, the contrarian inside of me questioned the sentiment. “So if someone is an abuser, racist or a serial killer we should give them the freedom to do what they want?”

The rational me knows that these actions are vile but are symptomatic of a more fundamental issue that has not been addressed. You may call a dog that bit you violent but it may have been caused by his mistreatment from other humans. The dog is acting out of fear.

This isn’t to excuse human beings and their fear-inspired actions; it’s just the explanation. The abuser, racist or murderer wasn’t born doing any of these things. They had to learn to do it or be encouraged to do it.

Martin Luther King Jr. was no stranger to the darkness of mankind. As a minister, he had to see the moral and spiritual struggles of those in his congregation, people in his family and in himself. And when it came to the racial divide, that was only a slightly different arena because it was fueled by the same stuff — fear.

At the 11th Annual South Christian Leadership Conference, Dr. King gave a speech entitled, “Where Do We Go From Here?” In that speech, he made this statement:

Dr. King makes a slight demarcation from Dr. Jung in that he explicitly stated that power is nothing bad, whereas Jung deliberately used the term, “will to power.”

Nevertheless, King’s quote illustrates a familiar and typical relationship dynamic. One person wants their way in order to feel safe and secure and will exercise the means to make sure they get what they want. They use their power in order to achieve what they want while the other person simply absorbs whatever happens.

But if power is used at the expense of others, if that power is used solely for self-edification or if power is used because one wants to force someone else into something they think is good for them, this power will lead to abuse and recklessness.

People who have the ability to do what they want without any care about who it will hurt are the people who give power a bad reputation. Others then erroneously learn to associate power with negativity, which causes them to self-sabotage and ignore their own power. Then they feel powerless and victimized in a world full of power-hungry people.

However, there’s another side to this.

When love is given without power, it is toothless. If you say you love someone but you see them heading towards disaster and don’t use the power of your voice to help them, do you really love them? If you say you love someone but you see them hurting themselves, another or you and you do not intervene, do you really love them? If you say you love someone and you want to speak your truth but you’re afraid of hurting their feelings, do you really love them?

Maybe, but you aren’t actually thinking about them as much as you’re thinking about yourself and wanting to preserve your peace (even if they are destroying your peace). Sometimes love is about telling the truth about how you feel, even if people may be triggered and take offense. Your goal was not to cause harm but they were offended because of who they are.

Also, this is where we see the dynamic of the aggressive partner versus the accommodating partner once again. The aggressor uses power to dominate the relationship in order to get what they want and feel safe. The accommodator allows the aggressor to do whatever they want and they never exercise their power in stating how they feel or in leaving the dysfunction.

What ends up happening is that the accommodator will try to find the ways to best please their partner and to try to keep them on their good side. What they don’t realize is that this is them stepping into their power, but they are merely being manipulative.

Let me be clear about something. When it comes to victim blaming, one must be careful. If someone abuses another, it is not the fault of the victim that they were abused. That is solely on the abuser.

However, if you stay in the scenario and try to find ways to manipulate your abuser in order to get them to do what you want and for you to feel safe, this is a problem. If you still want to call this victim blaming, go right ahead, but I disagree.

If one continues to think that their abuser took their power away from them, I’m afraid that the abused person will always be a prisoner. Even if a third party intervenes, if they still carry the notion that they are a victim and that they have no power, they are a sitting duck for more abuse.

But I will admit, the sensitivities of an abused person could cause them to interpret any word against their actions as more abuse. I can respect that. This is a sensitive dynamic and has to be treated as such.

Returning to Dr. King’s words, the sentiment is clear: if you love someone, there will be power because you want to demonstrate that love. If your love has no power, it is merely sentimental. You care about them but not enough to do anything about it.

Furthermore, if you exercise power but you do so without love — whether love for yourself or others — you are sowing the seeds of destruction. Many individuals who do this don’t suffer the consequences of their actions; they profit from it. Others are left to pick up the pieces and fix what was broken.

So when it comes to our relationships, take an honest look at yourself. When you use power, do you do it with love? And when you give love, do you do so with power?

Former Edu. Psychologist | Current Writer | Constant Learner | “By your stumbling the world is perfected.”

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