I was once a bully. I am not proud of it. Usually I write about overcoming my experiences as a rape victim. But I must come clean about my brief episode as a perpetrator of violence, because I remember all too well the power-high of domination. And I firmly believe that almost all of our environmental, social, and political problems stem from our culture of domination.
What is domination? According to the Oxford Dictionary, domination is “the exercise of power or influence over someone or something, or the state of being so controlled.” Sounds pretty academic. But the key words are power over. Domination is the opposite of equality in a relationship, interaction, or society.
As humans, why do we feel this urge to exert power over others? Does it go back to our evolution as social animals led by “alpha males?” Experts say this is an oversimplification. Anthropologist Tim White explains that alpha males likely ruled the common ape ancestor we shared with chimps around 7 million years ago, but that they no longer exist among humans.
I believe the centuries-long focus on domination stems from our own feelings of powerlessness. Deep down, most people feel scared by the fact that we have no control over when or how we die.
Without proper guidance, we may seek harmful ways to feel more in control. That may show up in a nation as the urge to conquer (think war, colonialism, and environmental destruction), the urge to feel superior (as in racism, sexism, classism), or the urge to bring someone else down (like relationship violence, bullying, or fighting). In all cases, we may try to temporarily elevate ourselves by stepping on someone else.
I felt that power high when I was in seventh grade. A friend and I got into an argument. She supposedly called me an unforgiveable name. Our peers encouraged us to fight. But looking back, I see it was not a fair fight. Everyone else was standing on my side, and she was all by herself. Feeling intoxicated with the crowd behind me, I bullied her. I left her with bruises, and left myself drowning in remorse at the end of the day.
That is the problem with the intoxication of domination: the feeling of superiority will always be temporary. We are only the winner for a little while, because, in truth, any interaction of hurting someone else will ultimately leave us both broken and in pain. And for those few people who never feel remorse, there is a name: sociopath.
Most of us are not sociopaths, yet so many people participate in the culture of domination. What, then, is the solution?
Self-compassion, forgiveness, and personal evolution. We bring kindness to ourselves and let go of our own shame and past mistakes, instead of projecting our pain onto other people. We forgive ourselves for our own moments of trying to control others. We forgive perpetrators who are truly seeking redemption and reparation.
And, finally, we see that we don’t need to be superior to anyone to be worthy. Personal evolution can become a healthy channel for our urge to be ‘good enough.” Instead of needing to make others inferior, we can find fulfillment in becoming the best version of ourselves.
Finding our own fulfillment through a growth mindset ultimately gives us more control over our lives. I am reminded by a favorite quote from the book I am currently writing (yes, I am going to quote myself!)
“Empowerment is standing in our own power, letting ourselves grow upward and outward like a deeply rooted tree. Empowerment helps everyone, and empowerment is for everyone.”
To stay in the loop for my book launch, visit saragiita.com/book and sing up for the mailing list!