Molly, 2016

There is a need that the psychologist who developed reality therapy describes her related to achievement and power. The idea of having a mastery over your domain. Nietzsche calls this a will to power, need for people to make their mark on the world, to make will manifest. This is what comes in mind when I ponder the term dominance.

There was an article that came to me from the Lion’s Den, a magazine dedicated to Buddhist ideas.   It described six things that are useful to achieve a sense of inner peace. The first was turning all mishaps into the path. I liked this idea. That problems, change, loss, suffering victory, fortune–all are on the path and are seen best because of fate. These are things that cannot be changed. Pushing against an unmovable object, or something out of your control, yields little productive action or thought. Better to be the like the reed in the wind. To yield to external forces and put aside expectations.

Dominance then becomes a problem as the individual (me) asserts that my way is better than other’s approaches, beliefs or ideologies. I then seek to make me desire real at the sake of other’s thoughts or desires. That my way is better, either as a selfish/narcissistic desire or a more noble shaping of another to what I see as a more productive, lucrative, wise, efficacious place. In either case, I’m reminded of the humanistic therapist Carl Roger’s who writes at length about the limits of our abilities to control others. Even when we have what seems to be the best way, or ideal solution, it is always limited by our subjective experience and may not be portable to another.

There are certainly structures in my life that require some form of dominance. Parenting and ensuring the snow gets shoveled, the kids go to the doctor, the house is in good repair. These require me to act based on what is in my mind as best for a given situation. To dominate. The bystander intervention work that I teach college students is a good example of this. The idea of intervening (dominating) a situation with my views to protect another.

This makes me think there is both an altruistic dominance– where the person acting in a dominant role does so in a beneficial manner, as opposed to a more selfish dominance that is forged in lack empathy or a larger sense of social justice. Perhaps these are necessary evils, though I can imagine both have the potential for vast injustice and harm. So many well-meaning altruistic put their version of the truth in dominance over others. And, perhaps easier to spot, those who seek to dominate for their own greed and desire and no larger purpose.

Then there is workplace dominance. Taking control for a company, economic gain or some larger purpose like education or enlightenment. It could be said that the classroom is dominated by the teacher in an altruistic sense to create structure and maximize learning. It would seem hard to live without some form of dominance in terms of putting your need above the needs of others for the betterment of social order or achieving a goal such as training. However, that’s where the devil lives in the details, isn’t it? To assume that my way is the best way.

One of my favorite stories is from a Universal Unitarian church we attended. During a talk, the leader asked the congregation to break up in groups. One of the outspoken members (not me, this time) spoke up and said, “I don’t feel comfortable breaking into groups until I know what the larger purpose of these groups will be.” There was something in me that immediately resonated with this sentiment. The idea of submission to another requires trust, respect, apathy or fear. It brings out that anti-authority part of me.

This entry seems to have become more of a thought piece. Suffice to say, I think for me, the application here is being aware of when I assert my will in a dominate fashion and being more selective when I do that. I’ve thought next year of doing a retreat where I was just silent for a week or so. Without talking. While there is nothing inherently bad in talking, I wonder if this exercise in silence would lead to a deeper understanding of listening.

With dominance, I wonder if avoiding dominance for some time would lead likewise to some deeper understanding of humility, equanimity and peace.

I’ll let you know.