It is strange and funny how two different and what first seemed as unrelated events in the subway can compliment each other and build a story with a deep meaning. This story highlights the difference between two manifestations of human power and paraphrases the old paradox of humans as spiritual animals:
“…on the highest throne in the world man sits on his arse” (Montaigne); “…and the fate as well as all physical it will decay and die” ( Ernest Becker).
“…a man can be destroyed but not defeated” (Ernest Hemingway).
Two couples entered the downtown bound subway car at 96 street. There was zero similarity between them and each of them had their own dynamics. But watching them from the side… you could see how the different dynamics were, in fact, two side of the same coin. Combined together as if they happened on one theatrical stage they laid out what the Power really is.
The first couple involved an African-American “gang boy” and a “latino macho guy”. Stepping into a crowded subway car, the “macho guy” slightly pushed the “gang boy”, and that was enough to trigger a power game between them. It lasted for a few seconds and involved aggressive looks and heavy breath. The “gang boy” was probably a boxer, and he stared at the “macho guy” with the same expression boxers look at each other before they start fighting. The “gang boy” hoped the “macho guy” would look at him, so he could then explode. The “macho guy” knew what was happening and looked aside turning half of his body away. He didn’t look and his opponent even once.
I observed this power game from the side and wondered about the differences in their power sources. On the one hand, both had muscles, were physically fit, and could challenge each other. We could say that this is a context of physical force. But on the other hand, the “macho guy”, who was older and heavier, “used” (I make here assumption for him) more subtle power sources. His turning away for a bit created a state when the “gang boy” couldn’t seal his quest for domination. To dominate one needs to have another party to agree to have relationships. In these relationships one dominates and the other is supposed to appease. But by looking away the “macho guy” didn’t loose his balance and never entered these “dominance -appeasement” relationships. Moreover, it seemed as the “macho guy” looked within himself at something else. He was engaged internally in a different story, which gave him the strength to withhold the “gang boy’s” attack on him.
In negotiation terms we could say that he had an alternative to the engagement with the “gang boy”, and having an alternative proves to be an effective power source.