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Power vs. Empowerment

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I spent the past week in Florida visiting family for the holidays, traveling from the Atlantic to the Gulf and back again. Being in 'God's waiting room', I was repeatedly confronted with points of view radically different from my own, and naturally, because this involved family, all the hot button issues were inevitably pressed. Some subtly, like a billboard featuring a Zeus lookalike frowning and pointing to a woman's belly, and some not so subtly, like a martini fueled rant about the need for the immediate (violent) overthrow of the Obama administration.

Occasionally, however, interesting topics came up, and I particularly enjoyed hearing about a woman's first trip to the shooting range. I have never fired a handgun before and believe carrying a gun makes it infinitely more likely you'll be shot, but I was very curious about how she would describe her experience. I asked, "how did it make you feel?" purposely leaving the question very open ended. She retold two parts of the story:

When I first walked in with my friend, we were both very nervous. As our instructor was going over gun safety, a shot rang out behind us, and it frightened me so badly I actually jumped in the air. It took about 10 shots for me to get over the sound. I was afraid... When I first picked up the gun, I was shocked by how powerful I felt gripping the cold steel and pointing it at the target. The target was nine feet away, and I could hit it easily. I was pretty good at it and I liked it.

It didn't surprise me to hear she felt "fear" and "power", but it was an interesting way to frame the obvious. When she didn't hold the gun she felt fear, and when she held the gun she felt power. I pondered her story and a bullet of insight ripped through the back of my brain, rebounding around in my skull for a few seconds before exploding out of my mouth: "The inherent problem with the power you felt is that fear from others is a requirement!"

Renowned philosopher, Nietzsche, believed all human behavior was motivated by the desire for power. We live in a world where power is considered a scarce and valuable resource, and its scarcity means the only way to obtain it is to take it from others. Power struggles can be witnessed on a daily basis. An authoritative parent and submissive child, a boss on a power trip stepping on the heads of fellow employees to get a leg up the corporate ladder, a country overpowered by violent rebels whose citizens hide fearfully in their homes.

I believe we misguidedly value power because we associate having power with having security and control over our lives, but when we do this it comes at the cost of stripping security away from our neighbors.

Instead of valuing power we need to start valuing empowerment. Traditionally, empowerment was used linguistically to signify the transference of authority. Recently, and likely by transformative necessity rather than fortuitous evolution, the word has come to mean "the enabling of oneself." The decision to empower ourselves comes from within, so unlike power, there is plenty of empowerment to around. Where power is scarce, implies insecurity, and feeds only the insatiable ego, empowerment is abundant, implies security, and nourishes the soul. When we empower ourselves we grant ourselves permission to self-actualize and simultaneously show the people around us that they have permission to do the same.

Empowerment begins with belief. When we believe in ourselves we become secure with who we are, and from this secure state we can safely believe in each other without fearing that one day we will be overpowered. From an empowered perspective, we can begin to see how a world booming with an empowered people can accomplish far greater things as a self-actualized collective than as a fearful, self-orientated mass.

As we move through the Information Age, and any amount of information is readily available with a keystroke, let us be aware of the connection between knowledge and power. Knowledge alone is not what our world needs; rather, what we choose to do with our information is what is important. If "Knowledge is Power" then imaginably "Mindfulness is Empowerment."