Empowerment. Two disparate views. (published despite my dislike of dichotomies)

View 1. Some people have more power than others. Some have privilege and are blind to the fact that fate has dealt them a good hand, and others not so good. Empowerment is more the responsibility of the blessed who are in a good position to advocate for those who have less ability to do so. Let’s call this responsibility.

View 2. It’s all to do with choices and perception of choice. Disempowered people have more power than they realise. We can assist them to embrace their power, but we shouldn’t give handouts, as this will impede their empowerment. Let’s call this “blame the victim”.

I just saw red when I clicked on this link in from a mailing list I get sent to me. Empowerment. It’s from a chartered psychologist in the UK called Peter Honey.  It outraged me and took me a while to calm down. It’s worth a read to see how cruel some ideas can be. I’m not criticising his intentions here, just wondering whether he has critically examined his assumptions, which I would say aren’t particularly uncommon. The harm I believe can be more when such views are delivered by a “guru” as I saw him described on the web. It’s no wonder the disempowered often end up anxious or depressed after they encounter these oppressive views.

While this view has a tiny bit of merit in some circumstances (I think there are some people whose survival skills fuel their disempowerment and it becomes hard to break the cycle), I believe it does so much harm. You see the effects of pushing this as a truth in the news on a regular basis. Only today in Ballarat were victims of past child abuse pointing out to the Church that supporting George Pell in preference to advocating for them was making them feel blamed for the consequences of the abuse. Why not take this assertion at face value?

I believe we need to really question some constructions of “empowerment” and its compatriots, for example “resilience”. There are some people who have been so oppressed that they become “doppressed” and their lack of resilience is because of the ongoing and persistent labelling (“not taking responsibility” for example.) Let’s not blame them for their suffering.


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And here’s a nice view from today as I walked the dog. Aware of my privilege to be able to do so.

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