Divide and Conquer

by Elouise

There’s a familiar battle going on in me today. It isn’t primarily political or religious. It’s personal. A battle of voices.

It’s been raging ever since I sat down to write. Which makes me wonder what Power is trying to divide and conquer me. Particularly when it comes to writing and speaking in my voice.

I don’t think about my life or my voice as revolutionary. I do, however, think about writing in my own voice as life changing for me, if not for anyone else. This battle of voices tells me there’s something the voices want to change in me. Or something they want to change back to what I was before. Maybe it’s what I write. Or maybe it’s that I write at all.

When I taught seminary, we studied a book by Paulo Freire called Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I’ve never forgotten Freire’s description of the way Power holders keep subordinates divided. It’s based on a simple fact:

  • When supposedly less powerful people fight against or among themselves, they can’t struggle together against Power holders. It happens every day.

I’m imagining there’s a Power holder in my head that doesn’t want my voice out there. This Power holder doesn’t want to be unseated. Instead, it wants to get all the voices in my head arguing with each other.

You know how it sounds. “On the one hand…” versus “On the other hand.”  Or even “What makes you think you know so much about that?” versus “My experience suggests otherwise.”

The desired outcome is always the same: Divide and Conquer. Just keep those internal voices fighting against each other. If they squabble and get into endless discussions among themselves, they’ll lose their focus and ability to speak clearly and effectively. Better to have them squabbling with each other than threatening us and our Power!

Some would say the Power voice is also in my head. Have I internalized a Power voice or two? Undoubtedly. Yet the outcome is the same whether the Power voice comes from an external employer, a supervisor, a governmental official, or from within my own fertile mind.

The Power voices want to shut me down or shut me up. Keep my words off the page. Hidden in the closet. Or admitted to the hospital for remedial surgery.

The less powerful voices want nothing more than to sort this all out so that we do it right, say it right or phrase it right. We wouldn’t want to offend anyone when we speak truth to Power.

Sadly, this ensures nothing substantive will ever happen. Instead, the voices will convene multiple consultations in my head about which words, phrases, and attitudes I should use in my communication. In the end, words that might have spoken truth will instead die of a thousand qualifications.

I don’t think of my words, written or spoken, as necessarily incendiary or dramatic. Nonetheless, when taken as my words, concretely tied to my life, not generalized into mush or vague generalities that protect me, they are as incendiary as simple words I use all the time.

What might happen next if I took these words seriously?

  • I love you. Thank you. I’m so glad to meet you. Won’t you come in? I’d love to hear about your life or how things went today. How is it with your soul? Yes. No. I agree. I disagree. I don’t know what I think about that. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.

Such simple words, capable of causing revolutions. Even turning my world upside down. Not because of the power of the words themselves, but because of the context from and into which they are spoken. And the expectations and aspirations of those who believe their supposedly less powerful voices make a difference right now.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 June 2015