The Power of Partnership
by Riane Eisler
$23.95, New World Library
272 pages, 2002Buy this book from Powell's, an independent bookstore
“Psychology Lite,” I once heard someone say dismissively of self-help books. In response I argued that there is nothing inherently wrong with the genre of self-help, that the quality of titles in that category run the gamut from excellent to execrable, as is true for any genre. But having read some execrable self-help, I see exactly where labels like “psychology lite” come from, and so I am occasionally embarrassed by my fondness for self-help books, especially when confronted with works designed to help women fulfill traditional gender roles more completely (The Rules springs to mind) or books touting the acquisition of money as a spiritual virtue.
Still, the best self-help books do indeed help me by offering insights into human motivation and suggesting ways to be more ethical, more conscious, healthier, wiser and kinder.
Riane Eisler calls her new book a self-help book, but points out that “the self cannot be helped in isolation.” Self-help improvement begins with presentation of a model for human behavior, recognition of a problem by scrutinizing one's life according to the model, and then implementing practical solutions to solve the problem. Eisler's purpose is to extend that model beyond the self to seven key relationships. Eisler starts with our most personal and private relationship: that of each person to him/herself. She widens her scope to include relationships with one's circle of intimates; with professional and community associates; with our national community; with the international community; with nature; and finally spiritual relationships and ideas about the meaning of life.
Eisler draws on a wealth of intellectual resources, from current scientific research about early childhood development, to the knowledge she acquired in researching and writing The Chalice and the Blade, a history of humanity covering 30,000 years.
She brings this wealth of information to bear in examining two opposing ways of interacting with self and others: the partnership model, which is egalitarian and respectful and shuns the use of violence; and the dominator model, which is authoritarian and controlling and maintains its control through violence. Eisler argues that neither model is ever an absolute proposition, but that all relationships fall somewhere on the continuum of partnership at one extreme and domination at the other. If we approach the seven key relationships in the spirit of partnership rather than domination, she tells us, these seven crucial relationships can transform our existences.
Eisler sees the well-being of the planet and every individual on it tied to the achievement of partnership-oriented goals, goals many readers of YES! will share: universal human rights, including equality for women and the destruction of patriarchy; preservation of the beauties and resources of our planet; responsible parenting and family planning; adequate health care for everyone on the planet; safe, healthy food.
As some of the more blatant examples of dominator goals and policies, Eisler cites the maintenance of a large government-funded military, protection of big business at the expense of workers, consumers, and the environment, and the subjugation of women by moving them from the workplace back to the home and restricting access to abortion and contraceptives. These goals and policies are readily recognizable as part of the agenda of many conservative political factions in the United States and abroad. Thus it struck me as odd that Eisler would claim to presume a wide ideological audience, and to speak to people at opposite ends of the political spectrum. As she herself states, “People who were raised and are now living by deeply ingrained dominator rules ... often tend to filter, shut out, or deny information that contradicts their worldview.” So why should people who believe that a large military is necessary to ensure their well-being and that of their children be at all receptive to her message?
Insightful as the dominator/partnership analysis is as a lens to examine the world, I don't know “how much better the world would be if the Osama bin Ladens of the world would read this book,” as a blurb on the book jacket gushes. I cannot imagine the Osama bin Ladens of the world—nor the George Bushes of the world—reading this book.
Indeed much of what Eisler lauds as progressive and necessary is anathema to the people who hold power and want to retain it—after all, that is what “domination” is all about.
Yet I hope this book reaches readers who have previously interacted according to the model of domination and that they will be persuaded by the ethics of empathy Eisler preaches to move towards relationships of partnership, and that thus the world will be improved and changed in just the ways Eisler imagines.