Monday, 5 February 2007

Empowerment and Power

I'm interested in the term empowerment, and what it has come to mean for different people.  It has both a collective and personal meaning.  On the face of it, empowerment could just mean acquiring any sort of power, but it can also mean gaining dignity, self esteem, and self confidence, and have nothing to do with actual power as such.  Empowerment can mean inner strength.

Some years ago I went to some Hearing Voices conference talks.  One speaker on Sexual Abuse said that we need to be strong together without having someone else's professional power and control over us.  I kind of agreed with what she said, although I realised that she was talking about collective empowerment, and which can exclude individuals.  Some individuals may be so much of an individual that they don't want to be part of any group, and yet they may still need or want to be personally empowered.  If collective empowerment doesn't include the individual then it disempowers the individual and society at large.

Wikipedia on the Internet describes empowerment as increasing the spiritual, political, social or economical strength of individuals and communities.  It says that this often involves the empowered developing confidence in their own capacities, and that an empowered person is one who has control of the decisions which impact his/her life, and that it means a person who has the same opportunities as the rest of society.

Empowerment does not mean having power and control over another person, but amongst social workers and mental health professionals it has come to mean this.  Some social workers and the Police use and exploit people as non-participants in society, but empowerment is also about integration and opposed to marginalisation.  It means a situation where no one pushes us around, so that we have enough personal power to get what we want and need, and assert ourselves.  Otherwise empowerment can be like a social worker using the state to make professional decisions and push other people around, but for me it means achievement to face and withstand their bullying and oppression.

Not being strong enough, is not necessarily anything to do with power. Inner strength and human energy is different from state power and force. There are those who will feel powerless no matter how much power they are given.  Because of a hierarchy of power, they will always be dissatisfied with the power they have got.  There can also be a dysfunctional pattern from the past with some people in power, of unresolved past issues, but this can be both personal, social, and historical, and to do with one class or group of people having power over another.