Sunday, April 12, 2015

Kinds of Power: An Intelligent Guide to Its Uses by James Hillman

James Hillman's Kinds of Power: A Guide to Its Intelligent Uses was first published in 1995. I read it some years ago, probably closer to the time of publication. I re-read it just in the last couple of days. I was prompted to do so after looking at some books on leadership to recommend. In addition to popular books that I pulled from a couple of lists, I added Kinds of Power to Garry Wills's Certain Trumpets: The Nature of Leadership and Leadership and Self-Deception. None of these three books were on the couple of lists that I reviewed, but each is a significant omission, which is not to diss the books that did make the popular lists, such as Delores Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals and Daniel Goleman's work on emotional intelligence in leadership. 

Hillman's book has a chapter of "leadership", but it places the issue within the context of power. Hillman was (d. 2011) a prominent voice in the tradition of Jungian psychology, and to my mind, a brilliant and engaging writer. His references range from Greek and Roman myths and etymologies to Michael Jackson and Bill Clinton. Easy to read but deeply thought. In his knowledge of ancient Greek and Roman culture, Hillman matches Wills in this mastery of these cultures and ability to apply those insights to the contemporary world. 

Hillman's work are always thought-provoking. I'm confident readers will find recognizable examples in his many discussions. By the way, Kinds of Power was published by Doubleday/Currency, which is (or was--who can keep up with changes in publishers?) a business imprint that published some unique and worthwhile books. And while Hillman's erudition is staggering, he wrote this as for a business audience, making it accessible to a most readers .

Some samplers:


As in a garden or a marriage, deepening brings ugly twisted things out of the soil. It’s a work in the dirt.

Hillman, James, Kinds of Power (Kindle Locations 596-597)



We become artists only when we enjoy the practicing as much as the performing. Until then we are caught by the limelight rather than the art. . . .  Over and over again, not to get it finally right, not for the sake of perfection, but simply doing it as if for its own sake, freed from having to do it. The work working by itself, mechanically, repetitiously, impersonally. Could this idea of disinterested repetitiveness— one of the highest aims of Zen, mystical contemplation and religious practice, as well as the practice of the arts and sports— transfer to administration, sales, production, accounting?

Hillman, James, Kinds of Power (Kindle Locations 675-681)



Even more curious: why are the conflicts about power so ruthless— less so in business and politics [and I'd add sports--sng], where they are an everyday matter, than in the idealist professions of clergy, medicine, the arts, teaching and nursing. Those embattled in academic struggles and in museum and hospital fights deceive, backbite, threaten and maneuver shamelessly. They will not speak with friends of their enemies. Cabals form. Hatchet men appointed. Revenge plotted. Yet in business and politics [and I'd add the practice of law--sng] competitors for much larger stakes still go off to the golf course, eat and drink together. In business and politics, it seems, there is less idealism and more sense of shadow. Power is not repressed but lived with as a daily companion; moreover, it is not declared to be the enemy of love.

Hillman, James,  Kinds of Power (Kindle Locations 1181-1187)


This last quote really struck home, not just because of its reference to academics and its contrast to politics, law, and sports (in my experience), but it reminds me that one of the nastiest employment situations I dealt with as a lawyer involved a humane society! It became apparent to me that all of the kindness was used up on the animals and none left for the members and employees. It was weird in a way. In this situation and others like it (I've experienced many examples in education as well), the magnitude of the stakes were inversely proportional to the intensity of the emotions. The common denominator was that these were not powerful people--or at least they did not perceive themselves as powerful.

What I've written hasn't done justice to  Hillman's greater project of "psychologyzing" how we view ourselves and our world. To him, we humans and our world have a soul, a way of experiencing the world that is symbolic, feeling, changing, and elusive. We must look at a phenomenon like power through this lens to appreciate its many manifestations and its changing character. And this is what Hillman does brilliantly, avoiding definition and instead providing stories and observations, from the world of the Greek and Roman gods to Mick Jagger and Abe Lincoln. It's a wild ride sometimes, but when I reflected upon it, I realize the deep insights that he as culled from this complex word and phenomena.