Power Plays

by Penrod

Let’s say you have been influenced by Jesus and by the Dalai Lama and by others of similar spirit, have discovered for yourself how satisfying it is to seek the happiness of your neighbor and you run into challenges in trying to be of help to someone. What you need is a power play. Not everything that is called a power play is one.

Years ago, I was a sort of “subject matter expert”—at least that is how I was billed. My job was to be a resource to Dr. Robert Bach, who was teaching a summer course “Toward Positive Student Discipline” to California teachers at the University in Berkeley. Other than the pay, it was a good assignment. We stayed six days at the Hotel Durand, played basketball, horsed around, and went to class.

I knew myself to be something of a charlatan or an imposter but I soon found out that Bob was not. His was a really good course. The class was composed of persons who were experienced, dedicated teachers.

One man taught metal wording at a California prison. He told of an inmate student, a young man who spoke to no one, acknowledged no one, and did little if anything in class. He bristled with intimidating hostility. Max, the teacher, executed a power play. Every morning while the class filed in, he stood at the door to greet them. Each day he said to the young man, “Good morning. I hope you have a good class and a nice day.” The student said nothing and Max felt hostility and disdain wash over him on each occasion. But, this was a power play and he persisted. After 30 days, the young man met the teacher’s

eyes and said, “Thanks.” From that moment everything changed. This example of positive student discipline was one of many shared and reflected upon that week at Berkeley.

I suppose it can be said that this was an example of power under, rather than power over. It is like the power of grass growing up thought concrete and cracking it. It seems similar to Peter saying, “Silver and gold have I none but what I have I give unto you. Rise and Walk.” Not many people have healed a lame person as Peter did so the comparison falters—except it was the same kind of power.

Should we analyze this prison school power play to see if we can understand our own power opportunities with hope of being effective?

I thank the new editors for letting me set the record straight on free lunches — that they exist in abundance — and, if they will print this, it will set things up for considering the challenge and anatomy of power plays.