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As a psychotherapist, Rollo May brings in many of his own cases, buttressed by pertinent external studies, to show the rage often buried deep within those who feel wholly disenfranchised and thus powerless. He explores how so many of these poor folks often create a fantasy world in which they can achieve significance and power-- with the danger that their retreat into such unreality can become a permanent pass through the looking-glass with no exit. The alternative, as he points out, is far too often "madness" (rage) AND "madness" (insanity)-- with deadly violence as its evil fruit. May avoids the psycho-babble and jargon to often found in psychotherapeutic studies and breaks down complex concepts to make them readily digestible to the layman with an interest in the subject-- all while maintaining a certain critical distance so that he may proffer theories worthy of future research.
Culture is more violent than ever. Mass shootings happen almost daily. The U.S. military-industrial complex spreads war to every corner of the world. Extreme patriarchal values celebrate strength, individualism, zero-sum scenarios, hyper-masculinity, and aggression over grace, community, communication, cooperation, love, and peace.
Society's out-of-control violence is a loud alarm screaming that things have gone seriously awry.
With Power and Innocence, May delivers an incisive look at violence, from a psychological to a cultural phenomenon, and he searches for ways to mitigate the pains.
In his inquiry, May makes many fascinating observations: *self-assertion and validation are critical to the healthy ego *if aggressiveness or autonomy is blocked as a child, individuals tend to remain dependent *if power is not expressed constructively, it will emerge destructively *communication breakdown is a common source of violence *violence is usually a "last resort" in the human quest for significance and power *violence can be a symptom of a hostile culture
Generally, May suggests violence emerges from feelings of "less-than-humanness", powerlessness, hopelessness, or homelessness in society and he identifies community as the saving grace, offering members mutual mental, physical, and spiritual nourishment.
As usual, May offers a warm, accessible, and deeply incisive look at his subject.
One book from Rollo May contains more wisdom than 1,000 books from lesser authors.
Reviewed in the United States on September 11, 2013
The extraordinary thing about Rollo May's Power and Innocence: A Search for the Sources of Violence (1972) is that it has as much to say about Columbine, Virginia Tech, the Oklahoma Federal Building, Iraq, Afghanistan, Martin and Zimmerman, Snowden, and Syria as it does Charles Fairweather, Vietnam, Kent State, Frantz Fanon, and Daniel Ellsberg. All you need to do to update it is to plug-in new names. The thesis is as good as ever: Reducing an individual, a group or a nation state to a subhuman nonentity will lead to violence.
The reason that most people - and many countries - never make the connection between losses of self-esteem and violence is that it is a slow-burning process:
"Violence is like the sudden chemical change that occurs when, following a relatively placid period, water breaks into a boil. If we do not see the burner underneath that has been heating the water, we mistake the violence for a discrete happenstance. We fail to see that the violence is an entirely understandable outcome of personalities fighting against odds in a repressive culture that does not help them."
Because May was trained as a psychologist, many of his insights are scientific in nature. But the hallmark of this book and all of the other great titles by May is the author's breadth as a humanist and writer. He intersperses case studies from his psychotherapy practice with meditations on current events, philosophy, literature and art to produce a narrative that is surprisingly easy to read. No matter where May is in the book, he always seems to reach for the right block.
In the final two chapters, May focuses on the importance of humility, compassion and understanding. Leaving someone out - whether it is the awkward kid in the schoolyard or a country that's been demonized - is dangerous business for everyone.
I don't know who has been paying for Dennis Rodman's flights to Korea, but the State Department might want to think seriously about picking up his next tab.
Reviewed in the United States on February 24, 2019
The message from the author: Everyone has a power within them that is a basic need for survival. It expresses itself first crudely as the screams of a baby asking for or demanding that a need be met. As e grow, the method of excercising power becomes more sophisticated, but it is always there. It can erupt into violence when an individual feels threatened or abandoned. The mistake is when people pretend that they don't have this power and repress. The unconscious will bring it out, mostly in neurotic behavior, but sometimes n violent outbursts. We are afraid of our own power because we know what we can potentially do with it, as contemplated in our fantasies. Awareness, as with so many things, is the key. And to exercise your power wisely and when necessary, opens the door.
Reviewed in the United States on December 28, 2011
This was written in 1972 in response to the violence surrounding the Vietnam War and Civil Rights , at a time when the Left had more of the violent imagery wrapped in false "flower child" innocence and flirted with violent actions (failed bombings) but the right still used police guns (Kent State)and the horrifying Attica Prison mass murder.
But, for me, this book is most relevant to my understanding of politics today. Reading this I can see how that period from the late '50s with the landmark desegregation ruling of "Brown vs Board of Education" continues right up to today with a Black man in the White house, NOT as a mere overly simplistic black-white issue, but as the deep social-economic issues of today and the questions "how we see ourselves", "how we fit in", "how we feel safe" "what is my place in society". He never gets bogged down in the swamp of "us-vs-them" thinking. He doesn't try to play one side off the other. His sense of his own humanity is much broader and more generous than that.
This book faces issues of violence as an issue of power that is blocked and denied. Power itself is neither good nor bad. It is simply "the will to BE". The issue becomes a question of how power can be expressed without violence? By separating power from its violent expression and by allowing that the expression of power can be an assertion of creativity and a co-creative sense of humanity, Rollo May is doing all of us a great service. I have worked with the prison-based Alternatives to Violence Project for over 20 years, but I have never encountered such a deep and generous understanding of power , violence and innocence as within the pages of this book!
In this book May expresses , with great humanity and very little soap-box grand-standing, everything I have been discovering about myself and my thoughts on my relation to society in the past 10 years ... some things about myself right up to this very moment, in the week or day before I read a certain chapter or sentence. Though I am not gong through a difficult divorce, I found his writing VERY helpful to share with a friend who is struggling with helping her grown daughter go through her own emotionally violent feelings provoked by her perception of being "powerless".
Rollo May does not express himself as a polemicist. He does not use difficult "scientific" language. Though a psychotherapist, he keeps psychological jargon to a minimum. Whatever theories he proposes are subsumed by the great care for humanity that his writing expresses. Though you may cringe at the politics of today, you will be comforted just sitting in the company of this great-hearted, compassionate, insightful and very, very intelligent man.
POWER AND INNOCENCE is even more pertinent to today's violent society than it was when first published in 1972--during the Vietnam war. Subtitled A SEARCH FOR THE SOURCES OF VIOLENCE, May elaborates really on his introduction to readers in LOVE AND WILL of his conception of "the daimonic," pointing out how power--though corruptive when absolute or totally absent--can, like anger or rage, also be a positive, constructive force. He also warns of the dangers of "pseudoinnocence": an immature, naive inability or (often religious) unwillingness to recognize the reality of evil in the world, oneself or others. Such denial of the daimonic is the antithesis of true spirituality. Though the war is long over, we Americans are currently engaged in hostilities of a different kind: domestic violence, schoolyard massacres, bombings and general mayhem. We are as violent as ever--maybe more so--and May's superb and prescient book is as aprop! os as ever--maybe even more so.