Open Mic Friday: you talk: ceding power

Happy Friday, gracious friends, and welcome to the Open Mic! If you’re new here, on Fridays we get together here for some chat. (Sometimes there’s a guest artist instead.) The topic varies from week to week, but everyone is welcome to participate in the comments.

Last night I wrote a little about habitually putting my work after everything else. That’s part of a larger pattern I’ve been noticing lately, which is that I’m all too ready to cede what authority I have over my own life. I think I’m usually pretty mindful, but it’s hard not to slip into old patterns when routines change, and that’s what’s been happening lately. I’ve been — unconsciously — more willing to let others take charge in ways both large and small. Examples: a large surrender of my power = feeling like I can’t do my work because “Erik is depending on me to plan for the trip” (not true; we’re depending on each other, but Erik doesn’t let it impede his work). A small surrender = being deferential toward a waiter whose manner I don’t even particularly like, because “he knows better” (not! how could anyone know better than I, what I like to eat?).

I read this behavior as partly gendered, partly cultural, but I suspect we all are a lot quicker to give up our power than we should be. There are studies about people apparently losing all power of independent thought once an authority figure tells them what to do. It’s also known that we are conditioned to respond to niceness (I first read about this in Robert Cialdini’s excellent book, Influence, recommended to me by Mo) — which explains why I listened to the smiling waiter even when I distrusted him. Obviously we’re all bound to others in ways I won’t untangle here, but so often — even when we have the authority to do what we like — we let others dictate our actions.

What do you think? How and when do you cede your power to others?