Relationships in a World of Individualism

  • rWorld

    The rWorld is about more than Dale Kuehne's book Sex and the iWorld.
    The rWorld is a New England based, non-profit (in formation), that is composed of a growing number of people and organizations from many faith and ideological backgrounds worldwide. We believe that much of the fulfillment for which women and men are looking can be found by enhancing the quality of our relationships. While the individual freedom we enjoy in the West is a gift, the love and intimacy for which humans yearn will not be found in self-serving materialism or hedonism, but in a variety of healthy relationships.

    Contact us if you'd like get involved:

  • Dale Kuehne

    Sex & the iWorld

    Professor of Politics and The Richard L. Bready Chair for Ethics, Economics, and the Common Good at Saint Anselm College, Manchester, NH.

    In this blog I'm highlighting signposts of the world in which we presently reside as a means of helping promote a civil, and meaningful dialogue about what kind of world in which we wish to live. I am particularly interested in exploring how might we reconcile the individual good and the common good, and where reconciliation isn’t possible, which should take precedence and why.

    I also blog at

    [Content Caution]

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rLiving 13: CEO’s (Power)

Posted by Simon on December 15, 2010

One day at work we had a visit from my boss’s boss’s boss’s boss’s boss, the top CEO, ‘Patrick’ today. He’d visited a number of times from his usual office in London. Every year he visits all 40 or so companies that the company owns to ‘meet the people’. I welcome his visits, and I appreciate his northern (England) charm, natural good humor and candor. He’s also been a good communicator over email through some tough times in the last couple of years. And most importantly he’s shown enormous trust in ‘Ethan’, our CEO.

Thankfully, Patrick holds a lot more power than I do. So do the other four people between me and him. And they’re welcome to it.

Relational Proximity Dimension #4 is Parity. The greater the asymmetry of power between me and someone else the greater the potential for difficult and strained relationships. This asymmetry can be real or perceived, and its affect on relationships can be more about the use and misuse of power than the mere existence of power disparity.

Power gets such a bad wrap these days. Power and control are spoken of as though they’re inherently evil. Except when it’s for us, our empowerment and autonomy. Then it’s absolutely glorious! We’re also a little hypocritical when we scream at regulators or companies or the rich for not doing stuff. “Doing stuff” presumes power to do.

Perhaps we just need a little more nuance in our talk of power. Power “for” maybe a way to talk about it. But even “power over” isn’t wholly wrong either. A voluntary, even if necessary, human organization of which I’m part has a purpose and a life bigger than my own, rightly or wrongly. So Ethan had the power – as much as I know he wished he didn’t have to exercise it – to eliminate a significant number of roles in the last 18 mths. There was no agreement by which anyone said, “I exercise my equal power to agree to lose my job!”. Ethan exercised power over us all because his power was “for” the organization as a whole. He also did it with grace and kindness because he had power “for” the individuals going and staying.

I’m not sure it’s possible, or even desirable, to avoid relations of power asymmetry. Knowing people like Ethan and Patrick are at the helm gives me great assurance and an ability just to get on with my job. Knowing my wife is wiser than me, that my daughter is weaker than me, that my friend is stronger than me and that my neighbor needs tech advice from me – these just create the web of rich interdependencies and trust that make good relationships what they are.

Clearly what needs to be avoided, among other things, is the misuse of power and equating power with value or status.

In my experience, Patrick, Ethan, and all the other bosses between me and them avoid those mistakes. The power they have “over” is exercised in such a way that feels genuinely “for”, me and for the organization. Within that, and the other constraints of working for a for-profit institution, I feel autonomous, empowered and of equal value with them all.

What experiences of healthy relationships within great power asymmetry do you have?

[See the introduction for the background to this series and the five dimensions of Relational Proximity.]


One Response to “rLiving 13: CEO’s (Power)”

  1. […] may be different for each person, but I'm not using value in that sense.] I’ll say again, power does not equal value. Value is not contingent upon any person or any thing or even on the self, but on God alone (who […]

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