Of course I have to explain what I mean by that stark statement. I use the words “power” and “empowerment” to refer to different ideas. You may have other words to describe the difference. The difference is much more important than the particular words used. Power has gotten a bad reputation but I want to bring it back as one of the essentials in life. Most people I meet say they want to be empowered in the sense that they want other people to listen to them, respect what they ask for and act toward them in decent, respectful ways. What I hear is a sense of being given something – respect, civility, being taken seriously. Notice that there’s no common form of the word that allows us to take empowerment whether or not the other person wants to give it to you.
Maybe a good example of what I object to in this use of the word empowerment was captured in a commercial for Hummers that lasted for only a short time. It showed an upscale young woman with her 4-5 year-old son having fun at what looked like a public playground. Suddenly a large, coarse, crude looking woman was there with her large, crude, coarse 4-5 year-old child. The bully shoved the upscale child aside and took over the slide they both wanted to use. The upscale mom glared at the other mother, who glared right back. The upscale child looked crushed and did nothing.
The upscale mom was fuming but said and did nothing. Instead, as the next scene showed, she bought a new Hummer and was happily driving with her child as the voice over intoned that she now felt “empowered.”
Nothing like a new Hummer to make you feel empowered. Even though she never said or did anything to protect her child and help him get his turn on the slide.
Power’s bad reputation is because of the many misuses of power that we’re all aware of. A seemingly logical mistake was to think that since power can be misused and “absolute power corrupts absolutely,” any power is dangerous and bad.
Power is neutral. Power is the engine that moves us through life. Power is as necessary as an engine is. We all know what it’s like trying to motivate or depend on a person who has little or no engine.
Without an engine, nothing is possible. With a great engine we can get somewhere. And with a great engine, we must also have a great steering wheel and brakes. As Spiderman’s uncle said to him, “With great power comes great responsibility.
Unlike empowerment, power is ours for the taking. We must take power over ourselves and over our personal space. Freedom isn’t free. No one can give you freedom and liberty. They must be fought for and won by each individual.
What does this have to do with taunting, teasing, harassing, bullying and abuse?
When we take power over our inner world, we can also take charge of our outer world. If we ask bullies to stop but they don’t, we don’t have to beg them, we don’t become victims while we’re waiting for laws, policies and programs to be enacted in order to empower us; we act from our own personal power.
Of course, I don’t mean for us to become murdering vigilantes. But I do mean for us to act skillfully to protect ourselves and to stop bullies. We don’t go buy a Hummer to feel good. We do something to rectify the situation in which there’s bullying or abuse.
Empowerment that’s given, gives shallow and hollow confidence and self-esteem. Confidence and self-esteem are real and deep when they’re forged by standing up courageously, powerfully and skillfully to challenging situations.
Relentless bullies are predators. They see weak people as easy targets; they become bolder in their attacks. They see strong people as difficult or dangerous to them and they go looking for easier targets.