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Power: have you got it? do you want it?

“Power trip, power hungry, power move, power politics, even power lunches and power ties! Chances are you use the term ‘power’ in a variety of phrases every day. Few of those phrases have positive connotations--power is generally seen as an oppressive force associated with compulsion and authoritarianism. When used in English, power generally connotes an individual or a group exerting a will over another, less fortunate, person or group.? – introduction to a written reflection on power by Eric Fretz, director of the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning at the University of Denver

Where does power come from? How do you get it? How do you use it? Should some people have more power than others?

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(Yes - I'm commenting on my own post...)

Arianna Huffington is an author and well-known environmental and political activist. She grew up in Greece, attended university in England, and has spent her adult life in the United States. This fall, Newsweek magazine asked Huffington and nearly a dozen other women leaders to write short essays on leadership and power.

I thought Huffington summed up the struggle many women have with power: "Women still have an uneasy relationship with power and the traits necessary to be a leader. There is this internalized fear that if we are really powerful, we are going to be considered ruthless or pushy or strident—all those epithets that strike right at our femininity," she writes. "We are still working at trying to overcome the fear that power and womanliness are mutually exclusive."

She continues, "I may have had an easier time dealing with this fear because my first taste of leadership came in a situation in which I was a blissfully ignorant outsider. It was in college, when I became president of the Cambridge Union debating society. Since I had grown up in Greece, I had never heard of the Cambridge Union or the Oxford Union and didn't know about their place in English culture, so I wasn't weighed down with the kinds of overwhelming notions that may have stopped British girls from even thinking about trying for such a position." She concludes that her early experiences "taught [her] that it is easier to overcome people's judgments than to overcome our own self-judgment, the fear we internalize."

How often do we give up our own power because of fear? How often do we keep our mouths closed because “it’s not our place,? because other people around the table are older, or seem to know more or have more experience, or are louder or more charismatic?

We owe it to ourselves to challenge our assumptions about power and to take risks like Huffington does.

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs