Transforming Power to Empowerment

February 3, 2018 at 7:54 AM Leave a comment

What’s the difference between being a powerful person and being an empowered person? Others judge whether we’re powerful, based on all sorts of societal criteria: job description – how many people do you have “under” you


Prestige (the best teacher at a community college is not considered as powerful as the best teacher at an Ivy League school)

Sphere of influence (does you family think you’re powerful? Your community? Your business? My aunt was CFO of a local hospital. Her younger brother was CFO of a major international corporation. Who was more powerful?)

You get the idea. Do we look powerful? Powerful men and women have a dress code. They have a friend list: other powerful people. You’re known by the company you keep.

Powerful people will self-identify as “powerful.”

Empowered people operate by different criteria. They are immune to the judgment of society. Some would say it is because they answer to a higher power. Certainly, that is true more often than not. But there are also many empowered people who answer simply to their own internal template of right/wrong, good/bad, acceptable/unacceptable. They have standards which they adhere to whether someone else is watching or not. These are often but not exclusively religious or spiritual standards.

Empowerment comes from knowing WHO you are, not what you are – not your title or role or address. Now this gets pretty murky because it is from others that we find our early – and sometimes ongoing –identity. It’s up to us to spend our lives sorting through which of the things people saw in us were truly us and which were masks or persona or roles we assumed because it was expected of us. This is a lifelong process, and it requires more courage and insight than anything else we’ll ever do.

WHO AM I? Powerful people will tell you who they are as described by what they do, who they know, how they spend their time, and where and with whom they hang out.

Empowered people won’t even talk to you about who they are. They are to busy being who they are. Can you imagine Mother Teresa being asked who she was? She’d be appalled and brush you off to get back to her women and children on the streets. Now she was, from all the stories I’ve heard, a powerful woman as well. Her power came from a very different place, though. It was internal. It was, in her case, I’d say, the power of righteousness. Apparently, she’d walk into any building in Calcutta and tell the owner she needed she needed his building and the date by which she needed it for her ministry, and it would be turned over to her.

You know powerful people and you know empowered people. The powerful people smell better, look better, talk better and stand straighter. The empowered people are quieter, smile frequently, would rather listen than speak, and are, as a group, curious, empathic and kind. The empowered have nothing to prove and nothing to lose. The powerful have everything to lose because their identity depends on others, so they have to keep proving themselves.

As long as we cling to the need to be powerful, accepted, respected, sought out, quoted, we are at the mercy of “the crowd.” In Bible stories “the crowd” was always the prevailing societal judgment. They were the ones who followed the law, the rules, the ordinances, whether they were equitable, universal, abusive, antiquated or cruel.

Interestingly, Jesus, like Buddha, Mohammed, and the wisdom teachers of all religions and cultures, said, repeatedly, “The law says . . . but I say.” Martin Luther King distinguished between the civil law and moral law. We each need to find and live by what our conscience and soul tell us is true. Truth, you know, is extrapolated because if it is true, it is always true. Truth, moral law, and wisdom teach us some pretty uncomfortable things. If it is true for me, it must be true also, in my moral and ethical code, for every other human. Power doesn’t like this. Empowerment is birthed from this.

If we are to embark on a journey of self-discovery, to find our real selves, to uncover the me I was born to be, we will have to do some soul searching. “The price for real transformation is high. It means we have to change our loyalties from power, success, money, ego and control to servanthood, surrender and simplicity.” Richard Rohr said these words, but the theme is repeated in the Tao Te Ching, the Bible, and, I am told, all the great wisdom traditions of the world. I haven’t studied them all. I have studied some poetry and I can’t find an exception – Rumi, Walt Whitman, Mary Oliver leap to mind as those who encourage this transformation poetically.

Peace and blessings, my friends, as we quiet down into the February stillness and let it lead us inward.

Love, Susan


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