Empowerment: I hate the word but I love the concept

Empowerment. Grr! Every time I hear it, it makes the hackles on the back of my neck rise. Its a matter of redundancy, you see. You don’t need the “Em” or the “Ment”. Power is fine. Its like Pro-Active. Grr! That means exactly the same as Active. However, I do understand that you need to distinguish between being pro-active and being re-active. And I can see how you need all those extra letters to make it clear that it is not just about power but taking back power over our lives. And if a few extra and technically unnecessary letters are the price for effectively communicating this understanding, I shall live with it.

Empowerment. What an amazing concept! Having the power to choose how we live our lives. You may be wondering what I am whittering on about. I live on an island rescued from Nazi oppression and returned to a democracy over 65 years ago and has had a free democracy all of that time. Well, yes, that’s true but that doesn’t make me completely free. There are still loads of decisions made for me without my permission. Lets take a silly thing like my electricity. The one supplier, Jersey Electricity, buys the bulk of its supply from the French company EDF and 80% of their electricity comes from nuclear power. Now regardless of whether I think nuclear power is a good or bad thing, I have little choice but to use it. The only other choice was to manufacture my own power and take my entire house off-grid – a task that would have been very expensive as well as a challenge to find the room for all of the batteries we would have needed. Recently, the States of Jersey has passed a law requiring Jersey Electricity to buy electricity from anyone who produces it locally. This means that I can now choose to turn my home over to green power of my own at a more leisurely pace as funds allow. In fact, I can choose to start producing more electricity than I need and sell it to Jersey Electricity so that other households could use less nuclear-generated power. The 21st Century has seen lots of opportunities open up to give us more choices. I can choose to buy Fair Trade goods if I don’t like the way Third World producers are treated by other coffee manufacturers. I can choose to travel anywhere in Europe for fun and/or profit without needing permission. I can choose to travel the world because methods of transport are easy, fast and cheap.

Empowerment. The concept is wonderful but it is also scary. As we gain more power and control over our lives, we lose any excuse for not having the choices we want. We can’t blame anyone else for our choices when we have to power to make the ones we want. If we don’t like where our choices have taken us. We can choose to change those choices and go down a new path.


5 comments on “Empowerment: I hate the word but I love the concept

  1. I have in my possession a 15 year-old book “Valuing Nature?: Ethics, Economics and the Environment” by John Michael Foster (1997), and “Nature’s Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas” by Donald Worster (2nd ed. 1994, reprinted 1997), which seems to be the successor of “Nature’s economy: the roots of ecology” by the same author (1977).

    It is great that you are a green consumer with green power to empower your community!

  2. It seems to SoundEagle that in describing and acknowledging the freedom and responsibility gained from empowerment, you have also experienced “Existential angst”, especially with respect to what you wrote in the final paragraph of your post above. From Wikipedia:

    . . . . sometimes called [existential] dread, anxiety, or anguish, is a term that is common to many existentialist thinkers. It is generally held to be a negative feeling arising from the experience of human freedom and responsibility. The archetypal example is the experience one has when standing on a cliff where one not only fears falling off it, but also dreads the possibility of throwing oneself off. In this experience that “nothing is holding me back”, one senses the lack of anything that predetermines one to either throw oneself off or to stand still, and one experiences one’s own freedom.

    It can also be seen in relation to the previous point how angst is before nothing, and this is what sets it apart from fear that has an object. While in the case of fear, one can take definitive measures to remove the object of fear, in the case of angst, no such “constructive” measures are possible. The use of the word “nothing” in this context relates both to the inherent insecurity about the consequences of one’s actions, and to the fact that, in experiencing one’s freedom as angst, one also realizes that one will be fully responsible for these consequences; there is no thing in a person (his or her genes, for instance) that acts in her or his stead, and that he or she can “blame” if something goes wrong. Therefore, not every choice is perceived as having dreadful possible consequences (and, it can be claimed, human lives would be unbearable if every choice facilitated dread). However, this doesn’t change the fact that freedom remains a condition of every action.

    • I’ve always associated angst with isolation – of being so alone that all limits placed on you become utterly meaningless. In that case, I have never perceived myself to be alone. So I must honestly answer no

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