Lumumba Shabazz gave me the word “empowered” to blog on– and in light of recent events, it’s divine that the word came up this week. Here’s some perspective:
“Empowered” is a derived word, developed in the 17th century to describe the legal process of giving someone authority, usually dealing with land, money or other property. It shifted usage in the 1980’s when it became synonymous with social justice actions.
It is a British and English word– with very few translations in other countries. In fact, in other countries, it is just replaced with the appropriate word for “power”.
This is because you can’t really empower anyone.
Hear me out.
As you become more self-aware, you recognize your strengths and your weaknesses. As you become self-caring, you place yourself in positions of strength.
That is what power is: strength. Power comes from the root “pot-” (potent, potentate)– which means strength, capacity to do and to act.
We already have every freedom to use our strength. We have resources at our fingertips– and even when we don’t know it, we can change any circumstance we find ourselves in.
Do we know who we truly are? Are we disciplined enough to work on our strength? Strength in the body is first built with discipline– strength in the mind.
There can be no empowered community or movement without first acknowledging your own position of strength. There can be no sense of power without first a commitment to inner discipline. Someone em-powered is someone strong inside, placing themselves in positions of strength. True power is never loud, or forceful, but it can’t be denied.
Those of us who serve and teach do our constituents a disservice if we say we’re here to empower them. That still supposes that power is something to be given, and not something to be. Any outer showing of power is just a side effect of the discipline on the inside. At some point, you have to accept responsibility for your own power– and use it.