The Other Side Of Empowerment

Not too long ago, as I worked on the client report which was eventually submitted as course requirements, one of the themes explored upon was that of Empowerment.

The World Bank defines empowerment as the “process of increasing the capacity of individuals or groups to make choices and to transform those choices into desired actions and outcomes”.  (source)

In the days after submission, as I struggled with making sense of change in a changing world, I began to realise that perhaps there is another aspect to empowerment which we may have failed to focus on.

When we talk of empowering youth through education, women through opportunities, people with disabilities through skill-building – have we neglected the fact that a world in which we have absolute control over does not exist?

Is there a danger of “over-empowering”; such that the individual begins to believe that anything they want is possible, that more choice is a good thing, and is then at risk of becoming severely disappointed when the choices they make or want to make do not play out as they should?

Isn’t it necessary, then, that while we talk of empowerment and expansion of opportunities and experiences and development of skills, we also focus on building inner resilience, acceptance, stoicism, lest the very ones we hope to empower become the most fragile to setbacks and disappointments?

Thinking back on the days as an educator, we were constantly told to “celebrate small victories”, to provide opportunities “to experience success”. Anything good was to be highlighted, anything less than that was not to be mentioned, so that they would not become a source of disappointment and despondency. The goal was to empower students to believe they could “do it”. But, wouldn’t the results risk developing individuals who only cherish success and view anything less than “perfect” as shameful, belittling of their status as a human being?

Is that true empowerment? Surely not. I imagine, to be truly empowered is to believe in the Self as an authentic entity, with all it’s imperfections and perfections.. To accept the fragility, resilience, ugliness and beauty of life, yet to strive on nonetheless, seeing the all in all.

At least, that’s my two cents worth.
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