Michel Foucault rocked the world with his ideas and his efforts to reveal and question the relationships between claims to knowledge, claims to power and authority over others.
No claim to authority, no matter how banal, comes without a corresponding access to authoritative knowledge. Psychiatry, for example, is a classic case: using its substantial power base to assert its claim to expert and exclusive knowledge and authority over an ever-greater share of our lives. Conversely, no knowledge can be established without some claim to some power, no matter how banal.
When we think we know something it is worth taking but a moment to check-in with ourselves and question how that knowledge we claim relates to how we “know” it and how we might use it – both intentionally and unintentionally – to claim some kind of authority over the way others define themselves or to how we claim authority to determine what they need to do.
There’s a fine line between supporting people as they find their way through a quagmire of relentless lifecrap and simply wanting them to do what we want them to do because we already think we know, because we’ve seen it before or have it on “authority” from some, er, “Authority” that what we say is what they need do.
And lest we forget, claiming authority is the most spurious and least convincing of any possible basis for authority.
As Foucault suggests, no knowledge comes without some inherent and integral notion of power.
Exercising power-over might help us feel good for a few moments but will likely, perhaps after some delay, leave the other person [and we too] feeling exactly the opposite of what we [say we] intend.
We can instead choose to use our power to help another empower themselves, learn to take their own power in their own situation, take their power in their own lives.
Yes, that is a slow process and we may feel frustrated, disappointed, let down when they don’t take the opportunities we might create or simply highlight. That would after all be very human – but those feelings we might feel are are entirely ours to own and to learn from – if you prefer its your very own lifecrap and you need to deal with – this one is your party and you can cry if you want to.
The bonus is that this kind of power-with, using our power to help others use their own power-to, feels way better and for way longer than if we take the short cut of using power-over them. We also have a better chance of getting home without the day taking its toll on us and ours and everyone else.
No matter what we might have learned so far – be that from books, or lectures or writing papers in class; be it from rigorously designed, scrupulously administered and independently funded research – or from raw in-yer-face real-life personal experiences – none of us do operate from a sample base of 7,000,000,000+ human life experiences that is 100% infallible 100% of the time.
Every new situation we encounter is different – and we know very little [approximately square root of bugger-all] about the situation we’re in right now, and even less about the unique situation of the person we are with right now .
Which, paradoxically, puts us in the best possible place from which we can learn.
As Elyn Saks says,
“people who have a diagnosis of serious mental illness already have a chorus of someones telling them what’s wrong with them and what they need to do.”
Enough, already, eh?
Do yourself a favour and choose not to add yourself to the chorus.
WTF – What the Foucault ? eh?
I have found that adding the insights of Paolo Freire to Foucault’s work makes for quite the one-two combination against the playing of the authority card. Your emphasis on the importance of having an openness to learning reminds of this.