Riptides: Choosing Power Over vs Power from Within
April 29, 2024
Do you believe in the saying, "Being in the right place, at the right time?" More importantly, have you ever been in the right place at the right time, with a life hanging in the balance?

Picture an idyllic day at the New Jersey shore, the kind you used to see on postcards. My cousins were visiting my sister and the beach was their playground. The lifeguards had left for the day.  The day trippers had dispersed.  The evening vibes were chill, people were happy, and everything felt right in the world.

Amidst the fun, however, a more serious situation began to unfold. Something caught my cousin’s eye.  A distance away, a young boy was in the water. Upon closer look, my cousin noticed the boy was struggling.  He was caught in a riptide, trying his best to swim straight to shore, but the treacherous current wouldn't let him.

The thing with riptides, as most of us know, is an attempt to power over a riptide rarely leads to good outcomes.  Escaping them requires a technique that is counterintuitive. Rather than heading straight for the safety of the beach, you're meant to swim parallel to the shore to break free from the pull.

Fortunately, my cousin knew this. Spotting the boy's distress, he quickly dived into action. With a steady stroke, he reached the boy in time and guided him out of the riptide's grasp. It wasn't long before the two emerged from the waves, a little shaken but unharmed. My cousin saved the boy’s life that day, understanding that trying to overpower the tide was not the solution.  He knew his power to save the boy required an informed response albeit one that was counterintuitive.

This beach episode mirrors life itself. Just as with riptides, we often find ourselves in situations where our intuitive reactions might not serve our best interests. This makes me think of a key concept called Power Over vs. Power from Within.

When someone's actions ignite our anger, our first instinct is often to focus on how that person needs to change.  We believe a change in their behavior is the solution to the problem. On the surface, trying to control someone else's behavior seems just as logical as swimming straight to the safety of the shore when caught in a riptide.

The problem with trying to power over someone else’s behavior is it is counterproductive and usually exhausting. Just as battling the strong pull of a riptide often leads to fatigue and increased risk, directing your energy towards trying to change another's behavior frequently escalates tension, prolongs conflict, and rarely solves the problem. It shifts your locus of control externally, making your peace and contentment contingent on another's actions. This is deeply disempowering.

Furthermore, every time we try to mold someone else’s behavior by attempting to exert power over their conduct, we chip away at our emotional well-being, much like how every stroke against a riptide drains us of our physical energy.

Chance to Change
Now that we've explored the idea of Power Over vs Power from Within, let's put this concept into practice with a simple, yet powerful exercise.

The Empowered Stance Exercise
  1. The next time you are engaging with someone with whom you are frustrated and angry, pause.
  2. Instead of focusing on the other person, focus on your reactions and your words.
  3. Remind yourself, just as surviving a riptide requires a counterintuitive approach, genuine empowerment in relationships hinges on mastering your own responses, not controlling others’. 

Implementing these three simple steps is empowering.  After all, when confronted with anger or frustration stemming from someone else's actions, the most empowering stance is to focus on what you can control: your reactions and your behavior.

Recognizing that the only behavior you truly have dominion over is your own not only grants you greater emotional autonomy, but it also positions you to navigate challenges from a place of strength, clarity, and true empowerment.

When you understand Power Over vs Power from Within, you direct your focus towards your own behavior.  You recognize this is where your real power resides. Choose the power that comes from within.