peanuts power

Power, in one sense, is the ability to achieve your desires.  In another sense, it is the feeling you get when you have mastered a skill that increases the probability that some desire of yours will be fulfilled.  And in yet another sense, it is the feeling that you get when you come to believe that you have the ability to master any skill that will be necessary to achieve your desires as you go along your life path.  When people feel confident, they feel powerful.  When Lucy steps up on the mound in spring, perhaps she feels that she can take on anything and achieve greatness!

Power and its Connection with Name Calling, Insults and Teasing

Illustration by Deanna Martinez

Illustration by Deanna Martinez

The reason that people use name calling, insults and teasing is to try to achieve their desires. In my blog post titled INSULTS: A COMIC STRIP LOVER’S GUIDE, I provide readers with eight typical desires that people seek to achieve by using name calling, insults and teasing.  One example that we covered is the desire to get someone to improve.  Consider a mother who sees her young boy misbehaving.  She desires to get him to improve, so she yells at him, “You little brat, stop that right now!”  If the plans that she uses typically achieve her desires, we say that she is a powerful person, or she has a great deal of power.  If the plans that she uses make it harder for her to achieve her desires, we picture her as weak and ineffective.  Readers of this blog have been learning plans to increase their skill when they are tempted to launch insults at others or when they find that someone is trying to insult them.  Learning the sources of power will greatly enhance these skills.

Power and Plans

People who are powerful at achieving their desires create effective plans.  They consider multiple options and how each option would impact the achieving of not only the most pressing desire, but their other desires. They consider not only the short term effects of the plan, but the longer term effects as well.

mother and child fightingA mother who brutally beats her son to get him to do as he is told may find that in the short term this plan works, but as the boy becomes older, counter to the mother’s long term desires, he rebels, turns violent towards her, and then runs away, never to be heard from again.  The mother comes to feel that what she thought was a powerful way to bring up children was her biggest mistake.

Power Plans versus Sources of Power

The term, “plan,” when used here refers to a series of steps that are described in enough detail so that any reasonable person can immediately implement them.  Because there are so many different types of situations in which you find your desires popping up, at times you will feel stuck in coming up with a plan.

A “source of power,” as used here, refers to an idea that can help you to come up with a plan even when you feel stuck.  Such sources of power, although not specific enough to implement without some creative problem solving, are helpful in fulfilling a wider range of desires than specific plans.  Knowledge of the sources of power can turn a feeling of hopelessness into a feeling of challenge.

The “ABCs of Power” List

power guitaristpowerful girlIn the following weeks, we will begin to build a list of sources of power.  They will be placed in alphabetical order, beginning with the letter “A.”  Once we are done, by keeping the list readily available whenever you feel stuck about how to achieve your desire, you will be able to retrieve the list, and as you go through it, you will find that it can often serve as an aid for creating a promising plan.  By spending time familiarizing yourself with the list, you will find that even when you don’t have the list at your fingertips its alphabetical arrangement will aid your recall.

Today, we will cover the first source of power on our list.

“A” is for Advancing Skills

Consider the following Peanuts comic:

Charlie Brown and the red haired girl

Here we see that Charlie Brown insults himself by stating “Rats!  Nobody is ever going to like me.”  When he says this, he has three related desires—not being lonely during each lunch hour, getting the little red-haired girl to come over and join him for lunch, and getting people to like him.

Charlie Brown, in this example, tries to come up with a plan to fulfill his desires but the only ones that come to him is to insult himself, and going over to the red-haired girl and trying to talk to her.  The first of these two plans doesn’t seem to be much help, and the other seems to Charlie Brown to be too likely to make a bad situation even worse. He seems to have fallen into a state of hopelessness.

But let’s pretend Charlie Brown has a list of the ABCs of Power.  The list doesn’t supply him instantly with a specific plan, but he can use it to help create a plan.  Today he looks at the first item on such a list, and sees it is Advancing Skills.  Next to the item is a little description of how it can be used.  Thus, it says:

“Advancing skills” as a source of power will refer here to working toward developing a talent that people you care about value.  For example, consider the following comic.

Dagwood woodworking

Dagwood seems to recognize that making something with his own hands for Blondie has the potential to fulfill his desire that his wife will appreciate him.  But we can see from Blondie’s reaction that his current skill level is far from what it will need to be before his desire will be fulfilled.

In contrast to Dagwood’s failed efforts, in the comic below Linus has figured out a way to fulfill his desire that his teacher appreciates his work.

Linus writing

 It’s important to recognize that “advancing skill” as a source of power does not require that you have some inborn talent.  In most domains many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of individuals’ prolonged efforts to improve performance. 

Dagwood’s efforts to create woodworks of art by going into his basement once a year and sloppily throwing something together for Blondie, is not what I’m referring to here.  The results of such efforts are unlikely to be truly appreciated.

Spending at least fifteen minutes a few times a week may enable you to develop a set of skills that can help to position yourself as being respected for that skill among the people you know. 

Charlie Brown and the red haired girlNow how might we apply “advancing skills,” as a source of power, to Charlie Brown’s problem?

Well, when I was about Charlie Brown’s age, my family moved in January and I had to start a new school in the middle of the year.  Everyone there had already formed into groups of friends and I felt lonely not only during the lunch period, but during much of the rest of my days as well.  One day, just so that I would have something to do during the lunch period, I brought three balls with me.  I had been practicing the art of juggling for a few months and had managed to reach a point at which I could get three balls going pretty good, but after a few seconds, I’d usually drop one.  I felt that with a little more practice, my performance might become smoother.

Very shortly after I began to practice during the lunch period, some kids came over and watched.  Before long they asked if they could give it a try.  I obliged.  A few began to bring some balls with them to school and during the lunch period we began to practice together.  As we did, we began to talk about other things as well and I learned their names, and the place began to feel less lonely.

At the same time, I noticed that quite a few kids liked to play basketball in the schoolyard as soon as they finished their lunch.  Up to that point, I hadn’t developed my basketball skills.

basketball shotRather than to dive right in and ask to play with the other kids during the lunch period, I began to practice after school at a nearby playground. And even before I was ready to get chosen into games, the fact that I felt I was heading in the right direction by working on a plan made these days far more tolerable than if I believed that I was doomed to be lonely for the rest of my life.  It gave me a sense of power, in contrast to a sense of feeling powerless.

When I did venture into some basketball games during lunch, I found that because of the way sides were chosen, I didn’t have to be the best player on the court to be a valued contributor to the team.  The players just wanted to be challenged enough so that they had to work to get a basket and to win a game.

acrobatscharlie brown as artist“Advancing skill” as a source of power can be used in many ways to achieve your desires. If juggling and basketball don’t interest you, maybe acrobatics, chess or something artistic will.

In addition to helping people who find themselves dealing with the kinds of problems Charlie Brown faces in our example, “Advancing Skills”  can be enormously important in other settings.  Millions of people in the workforce, for example, have had desires to improve their salaries or the type of work they do and found that advancing their skills led to their desires being fulfilled.  And whether you are in a school setting or in the workforce, if you have a desire to improve your interpersonal relationships or your intrapersonal relationship,  you can advance your skills for free by following this blog.

In our next blog post, we will look at the second item on the list of the ABCs of Power.  Until then, have a great week.


Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional and social intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.


About the Author

Jeffrey Rubin grew up in Brooklyn, received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and has taught conflict resolution there as well as at a psychiatric clinic, a correctional facility and a number of public schools. He has published articles on anger and conflict resolution and has authored three novels.


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