The Hidden Meaning of ‘Speak Truth to Power’

women collective story

Choose your own adventure by chiaralily on flickr.

Power vs. Force and the Roots of Anger

I don’t know why the statement “We need to speak truth to power” popped into my head last week. But it wouldn’t stop rattling around in the old noggin so I asked myself, “What does it mean to speak truth to power?”

I did a little research and apparently the phrase first appeared in a book published by the Quakers (Society of Friends) in 1955, although it is also attributed to Civil Rights leader Bayard Rustin.

I have a lot of respect for the Quakers. My great-grandmother was a Quaker in Indiana. I dig their whole non-hierarchical, non-violent thing. And I have a ton of respect for those who risked their lives during the Civil Rights movement to try to win equal status for African-Americans in our society.

This slogan may have been perfect for the collective consciousness in 1955. But its hidden meaning is actually profoundly disempowering in our time.¹

Speaking my truth…


Two women are talking after yoga class.


“He said what? Girl, what are you going to do about that?”


“Well, I’ve been meditating on it and I decided I’ve just got to speak my truth to him.”



The atmosphere is tense. Melissa’s shoulders are slightly hunched forward and the muscle on the right side of her neck twitches involuntarily. Brad sits on the couch, remote in hand, staring at her with that familiar male look of “Uh-oh, here it comes.”


“I need to speak my truth to you, Brad.”




We hear Melissa quietly crying as Brad’s car squeals out of the driveway. The phone rings. Gina’s name pops up on the caller ID. Melissa silences the phone.


All I’m saying is, “I’m going to speak truth to ________” is a recipe for conflict. First, we’re asserting that we have the truth and ________ doesn’t. Which is probably true. But if they don’t have the truth, there’s also a reason why. Such as: The truth can be damned inconvenient. Or: They just don’t care. They have the guns and the money and they’re going to do what they want..

Am I advocating just allowing them to do whatever they want? Read on…

…To Power

Why is Melissa crying alone while Brad speeds off in his car to brood man thoughts? Because men are terrible at communicating about their feelings and will usually react with stupid behavior when pressed? Maybe, but there’s a deeper energetic here that bears noticing. And that is our collective story about power and powerlessness.

Their post-conversation behavior indicates that Melissa and Brad both brought a fair amount of pent-up anger to the interaction. We don’t feel the need to “speak our truth” unless there’s a lot of truth we haven’t been speaking up until that point. Perhaps we haven’t been speaking our truth from ignorance (we don’t know our truth). Usually, we don’t speak our truth on a daily basis our of fear:  we’ll get fired or go to jail or our partner will leave us or our friends will call us a bitch, and so forth.

My colleague Cathryn Taylor once told me, “Well, you know – anger is truth unspoken, right?”

Some psychologists theorize that all anger stems from fear – specifically fear of being powerless. The reason we react with anger when our two-year-old makes a beeline for the street is that in that moment we feel powerless to protect our child.

I think it’s time we challenged the story in the collective unconscious that says the one percent – the politicians, CEOs, Illuminati, et al – have the power and we don’t.

It’s true they have force on their side. But, as David Hawkins points out in the classic Power vs. Force:

“Force always moves against something, whereas power doesn’t move against anything at all. Force is incomplete and therefore has to be fed energy constantly. Power is total and complete in itself and requires nothing from outside. It makes no demands; it has no needs. Because force has an insatiable appetite, it constantly consumes. Power, in contrast, energizes, gives forth, supplies, and supports. Power gives life and energy – force takes these away. […] Force is associated with judgement and makes us feel poorly about ourselves.”

In Hawkins’ model, force is always moving against opposition. So it naturally creates an equal and opposite reaction to itself. Power, on the other hand, just is. Hawkins theorized that the only sustainable way to overcome the low-vibrational effects of a negative force-field is to put ourselves into range of a higher vibrational ‘attractor field’.

The collective myth of our powerlessness is deeply implanted in the human psyche. The wretched state of humanity and our helplessness to chart our own destiny without the assistance of God/the gods/our alien overlords is the dominant motif that runs through the Old Testament of the Bible. Step out of line, and you’ll be punished, eternally, forever and ever.

This story is reinforced for most of us from shortly after birth. By age two or three we’ve learned how far we can go in asserting our will before our giant guardians will lose patience and use their superior force to blast us back down to size and remind us of our place.

Time for A New Story

I’m not claiming that liberating ourselves from the story of our powerlessness will be an easy feat. I am saying that I believe it is our destiny.

What if we all got together and decided that the story of our powerlessness was simply a lie perpetrated by beings who wanted our energy and who have reaped the benefits of treating us as a slave species?

What if their only power over us was our belief in the self-serving story that they have the power and we don’t?

And what if, rather than speaking truth to these beings and their human representatives, we spoke truth to one another?

What if we rewrote the entire narrative of humanity to revolve around the chapters in which our generation and our children’s and grandchildren’s generations woke up from the bad dream and realized that we are as much Power as anything else in the Universe?

The Collective Disempowerment of Women and “Minorities”

I was talking with a powerful businesswoman I know the other day about women in business and the “Return of the Divine Feminine.” She had just described how a problematic relationship with a male boss had ceased being problematic once she realized how insecure he was. As she described the relationship, I saw this man-child who just wanted to be mothered.

The more this woman actually saw the CEO as a real person, the more she was able to treat him as a good mother would treat her headstrong son. She could be compassionate with his inner pain while setting firm boundaries as to what behavior was acceptable.

I thought about the Million Woman March in January. I thought about some of the black women I’ve known in my life. Now there’s some power, but it is power trapped under at least two additional layers of sub-narrative in our society. Because whatever we may think we think on the surface, the unconscious story passed down from the ancestors dictates that women possess even less power than men do, and that black people (and other minorities² with more tint to their skin tone) most definitely must not have any power.

In fact, the systematic oppression of non-white-skinned people in this country reflects an unconscious fear of the enormous power that white people sense in those with tinted skin. Same with the systematic oppression of women by men for thousands of years.

What would happen if 20 percent of the black women in America just decided: “No more?” I wondered.

“No more cops shooting unarmed black men. No more TV shows or video games or music that glorifies violence against women. No more tax dollars to build war machines and sell them to Israel or Saudi Arabia or anywhere else they are used to kill innocent children.

Instead, we’re going to take all of that money and invest it teaching our children how to live well. In growing organic produce in the cities so people in poor neighborhoods can eat healthy food. In building schools that don’t look like prisons or dilapidated government research facilities left over from the 1970s.”

The day that happens? Society transforms, practically overnight. But we have to stop believing the old story and align ourselves with Power. Which we are, because we are Life.


1 – If you used this slogan recently, I’m sure it was well-intentioned and you can be sure I don’t know it was you who said it.

2 – Even the accepted word for talking about non-whites in our society carries the intent of disempowering them. The word minority comes from the Latin minor, meaning “less, lesser, smaller, junior,” [and] figuratively “inferior, less important”.  (Online Etymology Dictionary)

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