I’m not totally sure why I chose this quote for my bullet journal this month. I just re-listened to the audiobook of Sense and Sensibility, and this was one of the few quotes that interested me. I’m just a bit baffled by why.

“She was without any power, because she was without any desire of command over herself.” 

Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility

At first I focused on “command over herself,” but as I dig into what really interests me, I realize that the key word is power. Power isn’t something I typically pursue. In fact, like money, I often have negative associations with it. We’ve all seen people abusing their power. It’s not pretty. I don’t want to be one of those people.

On the other hand, a lack of power can put you at the mercy of the very people who do abuse their power. And a perceived lack of power can quickly make you feel like a victim. I would prefer to avoid these situations.

In my year of abundance (you can read more about that here), I am making an effort to face some things I’ve typically shied away from, like money and power, things I’m afraid will make me a bad person. There. I’ve said it. It sounds ridiculous when I write it down, but it’s true. I avoid money because I’m afraid it’ll make me a bad person. I avoid power for the same reason.

But here’s a distinction I’m trying to understand. Pursuing money for the sake of money, or power for the sake of power, can quickly lead to trouble. But what about pursuing money for the sake of creative freedom? Or pursuing power for the sake of self-determination? Those sound pretty good to me.

This brings me back to my quote. Sense and Sensibility examines the power that we each have over our own lives, no matter how much of that life may be out of our control. Marianne and Elinor Dashwood both find themselves with less money than they once had. Both of them fall in love. But the two sisters respond to these situations in very different ways. Marianne is a passionate romantic who doesn’t care about money and throws herself into love. Elinor is a reserved realist who is frugal with money and cautious in love. I think that if this were a modern novel, Marianne would be revered as the heroine. Elinor would likely be the annoying side character bringing everyone down. But though Austen has compassion for Marianne, she comes squarely down in Elinor’s camp when it comes to building a happy life.

However old fashioned it may be, this sort of power—power over oneself—is the sort of power I admire and aspire to. I’m comfortable with this. But having the power to command attention, to raise my voice and possibly influence others—that makes me uneasy. 

Except that I see amazing people who are embracing their power to influence others and tell their stories, people I admire, people whose work enriches my life. I want to have that kind of power, not so I can control or manipulate other people, but so I can contribute to the conversation and enrich other people’s experiences, and be enriched in turn by theirs.  

After all, if good people avoid power and money, who’s left controlling the world?

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