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Power and Innocence: A Search for the Sources of Violence
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on July 18, 1998
POWER AND INNOCENCE is even more pertinent to today's violent society than it was when first published in 1972--during the Vietnam war. Subtitled A SEARCH FOR THE SOURCES OF VIOLENCE, May elaborates really on his introduction to readers in LOVE AND WILL of his conception of "the daimonic," pointing out how power--though corruptive when absolute or totally absent--can, like anger or rage, also be a positive, constructive force. He also warns of the dangers of "pseudoinnocence": an immature, naive inability or (often religious) unwillingness to recognize the reality of evil in the world, oneself or others. Such denial of the daimonic is the antithesis of true spirituality. Though the war is long over, we Americans are currently engaged in hostilities of a different kind: domestic violence, schoolyard massacres, bombings and general mayhem. We are as violent as ever--maybe more so--and May's superb and prescient book is as aprop! os as ever--maybe even more so.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 28, 2011
This was written in 1972 in response to the violence surrounding the Vietnam War and Civil Rights , at a time when the Left had more of the violent imagery wrapped in false "flower child" innocence and flirted with violent actions (failed bombings) but the right still used police guns (Kent State)and the horrifying Attica Prison mass murder.

But, for me, this book is most relevant to my understanding of politics today. Reading this I can see how that period from the late '50s with the landmark desegregation ruling of "Brown vs Board of Education" continues right up to today with a Black man in the White house, NOT as a mere overly simplistic black-white issue, but as the deep social-economic issues of today and the questions "how we see ourselves", "how we fit in", "how we feel safe" "what is my place in society". He never gets bogged down in the swamp of "us-vs-them" thinking. He doesn't try to play one side off the other. His sense of his own humanity is much broader and more generous than that.

This book faces issues of violence as an issue of power that is blocked and denied. Power itself is neither good nor bad. It is simply "the will to BE". The issue becomes a question of how power can be expressed without violence? By separating power from its violent expression and by allowing that the expression of power can be an assertion of creativity and a co-creative sense of humanity, Rollo May is doing all of us a great service. I have worked with the prison-based Alternatives to Violence Project for over 20 years, but I have never encountered such a deep and generous understanding of power , violence and innocence as within the pages of this book!

In this book May expresses , with great humanity and very little soap-box grand-standing, everything I have been discovering about myself and my thoughts on my relation to society in the past 10 years ... some things about myself right up to this very moment, in the week or day before I read a certain chapter or sentence. Though I am not gong through a difficult divorce, I found his writing VERY helpful to share with a friend who is struggling with helping her grown daughter go through her own emotionally violent feelings provoked by her perception of being "powerless".

Rollo May does not express himself as a polemicist. He does not use difficult "scientific" language. Though a psychotherapist, he keeps psychological jargon to a minimum. Whatever theories he proposes are subsumed by the great care for humanity that his writing expresses. Though you may cringe at the politics of today, you will be comforted just sitting in the company of this great-hearted, compassionate, insightful and very, very intelligent man.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 12, 2007
I found this book very instructive, full of insight into the underlying causes of violence of all kinds. I wish I had known about this earlier in my life. May makes the argument that every human being requires significance and if a system obstructs that for too long, violence will inevitably erupt like the sudden emergence of boiling in a pot of water that has been heated for some time. He describes some ideas that are difficult to face, such as that America has always been a land of violence, from the initial genocide of the Indians, through the 1968 political assassinations, to the present day occupations of other people's countries. Another is that the violence in war is sometimes described by soldiers as accompanying deep experiences they miss after their combat experience is over. I highly recommend this book for both its substance and its readability.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 11, 2013
The extraordinary thing about Rollo May's Power and Innocence: A Search for the Sources of Violence (1972) is that it has as much to say about Columbine, Virginia Tech, the Oklahoma Federal Building, Iraq, Afghanistan, Martin and Zimmerman, Snowden, and Syria as it does Charles Fairweather, Vietnam, Kent State, Frantz Fanon, and Daniel Ellsberg. All you need to do to update it is to plug-in new names. The thesis is as good as ever: Reducing an individual, a group or a nation state to a subhuman nonentity will lead to violence.

The reason that most people - and many countries - never make the connection between losses of self-esteem and violence is that it is a slow-burning process:

"Violence is like the sudden chemical change that occurs when, following a relatively placid period, water breaks into a boil. If we do not see the burner underneath that has been heating the water, we mistake the violence for a discrete happenstance. We fail to see that the violence is an entirely understandable outcome of personalities fighting against odds in a repressive culture that does not help them."

Because May was trained as a psychologist, many of his insights are scientific in nature. But the hallmark of this book and all of the other great titles by May is the author's breadth as a humanist and writer. He intersperses case studies from his psychotherapy practice with meditations on current events, philosophy, literature and art to produce a narrative that is surprisingly easy to read. No matter where May is in the book, he always seems to reach for the right block.

In the final two chapters, May focuses on the importance of humility, compassion and understanding. Leaving someone out - whether it is the awkward kid in the schoolyard or a country that's been demonized - is dangerous business for everyone.

I don't know who has been paying for Dennis Rodman's flights to Korea, but the State Department might want to think seriously about picking up his next tab.
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on December 19, 2012
As a psychotherapist, Rollo May brings in many of his own cases, buttressed by pertinent external studies, to show the rage often buried deep within those who feel wholly disenfranchised and thus powerless. He explores how so many of these poor folks often create a fantasy world in which they can achieve significance and power-- with the danger that their retreat into such unreality can become a permanent pass through the looking-glass with no exit. The alternative, as he points out, is far too often "madness" (rage) AND "madness" (insanity)-- with deadly violence as its evil fruit. May avoids the psycho-babble and jargon to often found in psychotherapeutic studies and breaks down complex concepts to make them readily digestible to the layman with an interest in the subject-- all while maintaining a certain critical distance so that he may proffer theories worthy of future research.
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I've read this book many times and appreciate knowing his insights re: Power and Innocence. I am now sharing it with others.
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on July 10, 2015
Book was just as promised.
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5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
....to Stephen Diamond's ANGER, MADNESS, AND THE DAIMONIC, this book always reminds me of one of its central ideas: that innocence unaware of its own daimonic dimension (its own shadow) becomes evil.
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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
I bought this for a gift for someone who works as a psychologist and they told me his books are fantastic!
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