Greenleaf writes that: The trouble with coercive power is that it only strengthens resistance. And, if successful, its controlling effect lasts only as long as the force is strong. It is not organic. Only persuasion and the consequent voluntary acceptance are organic. Since both kinds of power have been around for a long time, an individual will be better off if he is close enough to raw coercion to know what it is. One must be close to both the bitterness and goodness of life to be fully human. The servant must be fully human. . . . because of this [the servant] is dependable and trusted. [The Servant as Leader, circa 1969, p.33].
I have seen young children resist more when a parent is attempting to exert coercive power. I have also seen children resume the ‘old behavior’ once a parent has ‘left the scene’ and coercive power is no longer in play. Most adults are more passive in their resistance and most also return to their ‘old ways’ once the coercive person ‘leaves the scene.’
Although organizations (think also: divisions, departments, and teams) are simply individuals and relationships writ large many continue to embrace inorganic metaphors (think: mechanical metaphors and banking metaphors). People are dehumanized; they become ‘cogs’ or ‘assets’ or ‘commodities’ or ‘resources.’
One implication in what Greenleaf offers us is that in order to use coercive power one must engage in dehumanizing both one’s self and the one to be coerced. We move from an organic ‘I-Thou’ relationship to at minimum an ‘I-It’ relationship and at maximum to an ‘It-It’ relationship. I had not thought of this implication in this way before and yet, I can see both of these types of relationships [the ‘I-Thou’ and the ‘I-It’] as I sit here this morning in a coffee shop watching employees interacting with one another.
As I am thinking about this post I am aware of three questions that have emerged into my consciousness: Why and when do I choose to dehumanize others? What is my need that motivates me to dehumanize the other(s)? Is it easier for me to coerce if I dehumanize the other(s)?