Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Empowering disillusions


Each of us learns lessons from the people around us.  Some of these lessons are helpful, giving us true knowledge and understanding of the world in which we find ourselves; others hinder our ability to take our place in the world with confidence and strength.

One lesson many of us learn is fear:  Lie low or you'll just get hurt.  The nail that stands out gets hammered down.  Resistance is futile.  Stay safe; stay invisible.  Survive.

Another common lesson is insecurity:  Self-worth is built up by tearing other people down.  Ridicule and put-downs reassure us of our own superiority.  Triumphalism masks deep-seated vulnerability.  The need to be right, versus the desire to understand what is true:  Truth spoken can threaten certitude, and thus threaten the sense of security that depends upon certitude.

Beneath these lessons, as well as many other lessons that hinder us, the bedrock belief is powerlessness:  The world is unfair; the cards are stacked against you; good people can't get ahead; you can't have the life and work you want; oh, well, what can you do; and just who the hell do you think YOU are, to believe you can have what you want, realize your dreams, create and shape your own life?  Do you not know that you are a powerless pawn in the hands of fate and at the mercies of a corrupt world?  You can only succeed if you become corrupt like them.  Power is bad.  You don't want it.

And many of us, whether as children or as adults, tried to challenge these disempowering messages.  We declared our determination to decide what we wanted and to figure out how to create it.  Set the vision, stay focused on it, and do the work to get us from Point A to Point B, with maybe a few speed bumps along the way.  Simple.

And, allowing for the ninety-nine percent perspiration of which Edison spoke, accomplishing a goal pretty much does boil down to those simple steps.  What we often fail to account for are not the concrete external obstacles but the subtler internal resistance which has been deeply ingrained in us--and will be thrown at us with renewed vigor should we persist in thinking we really can effect change.

Far from being seen as hopeful or encouraging, to speak of empowerment in the context of a disempowered system is perceived to be very, very threatening.  The communal story is that we are fundamentally powerless.  To suggest--or even worse, demonstrate--that we can find power within ourselves, whatever the circumstances, to shape our own lives is to threaten the truth of the communal story upon which communal security is believed to depend.

True security, however, does not lie in any of our stories.  True security lies in being at peace with life as it is, both the circumstances we encounter without and our power within to work with whatever we encounter, and in living each day from that sense of inner strength and power.