A Google search on the word ’empowerment’ shows that there are several nuances to the way we use it – at least, today. These range from being ‘allowed’ to do a job without micro-management, to having a meaningful say in decisions that affect one’s life. The common theme is that we are trusted and that our decisions are respected. And that’s certainly something that we owe to others, around us, even as we hope for it from them. When we ‘know what’s best’ and we override the wishes of others (or even assume that they would coincide with ours), we disempower them and we invite the same in return. The result is a descent into conflict.

As we look around the world and see increasing levels of conflict, we should also consider the idea that the primary cause (if not the only one) is disempowerment. From disputes over abortion to the border disputes that led to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, what we see is one group trying to disempower another: to assert their own view of what is ‘right’ over the wishes of the other. And whilst it is the nature of democracy that all parties vote on the rules of society, and then accept the result, there is sometimes precious little ‘acceptance’ amongst the losers.

Disempowerment doesn’t just play out on the national or world stages: it also plays out in the workplace and in the home. Many a relationship is soured by one party ‘knowing what’s right’ and simply over-ruling another. Only, in these arenas there is not even the illusion of democracy to fall back upon. One either knuckles down, or fights. A ‘thick skin’ can perhaps allow one to resist coercion, but the pressure will remain, and the attacker(s) will always be looking for a weakness in one’s base of power.

The flip side of disempowerment is ‘assertiveness’. This is where one doesn’t wait for empowerment but acts as if it has already been granted. With luck, this may cause those who have been acting to disempower you to ‘wake up’ and start consulting and respecting your wishes. But you might also need to fight a few battles to prove that their base of power isn’t as strong as they thought. If you are unlucky, and their base of power is much stronger than yours, you might find yourself thrown out: your resistance simply ‘removed’.

This ‘base of power’ is clearly important. What it amounts to is the degree to which one believes one has external support for over-ruling the wishes of another. That belief can come from organisational or social role, or it can simply be imagination. A common action of the malicious narcissist is to taunt their victim with the words, “Who would believe you?” That’s an example of pure imagination: projecting their own, and attacking that of their victim.

When the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche observed the interplay of disempowerment versus assertiveness, he concluded that all life has an innate will to assert its own power. He concluded that any ’empowerment’ was at best a concession of small power, from a position of greater power (and at worst delusional). Is it really so? Are we all, at heart, unredeemable narcissists?

In the ordinary waking consciousness of Man, all of our considering is ‘internal’ or subjective. We give events meaning and significance in relation to our own, internal well-being. We can project or imagine a condition different to our current (or what we perceive as our current) and we can extend our considering to that imagined condition. It’s what we use to determine our actions, and it also leads to ‘sympathy’ for others (or the lack of it). In the ordinary, waking consciousness, well-being of self is the origin of all; it is the base of our ‘power’ and it is also the origin of our actions to disempower others, or to grant lesser power where we believe it is in our interests. In this light, Nietzsche’s assertions are correct.

What Nietzsche didn’t reckon with, or perhaps just dismissed as fantasy, was the possibility of a consciousness – an awareness of being – that can be greater than the ordinary waking or animal consciousness. He probably had no experience of it. This extended consciousness first reveals the inner considering and then, as that is stripped away, starts to show the ‘being’ of others as something other than our projection. To the extent that there is no inner considering, we become free to consider the larger picture around us without any ‘partiality’ to certain results, over others. It isn’t that we somehow intuit the wishes of others: how can we know them? Telepathy? [Actually yes, but only with a deep, waking meditation.] However, we can ask, and we can then consider impartially. [Even with telepathy, it’s polite to ask.] Gurdjieff called this ‘external considering’, and it empowers others with real equality.

This ‘impartiality’ is a strange state: almost completely foreign to the ordinary waking consciousness. The closest we get is where there is neither positive nor negative emotion regarding some possible event. In this position, inner considering delivers only a “meh” result: we don’t care one way or another. However, without the extended consciousness, there is no data for external considering. We are left only with the feeling, “It doesn’t concern me,” which isn’t the same. When inner considering ‘stalls’, it does not vote at all – or not with any force – where external considering would still have produced a motion for or against.

In the ordinary world – the world created by billions of souls only experiencing narrow self-consciousness – any ’empowerment’ is, indeed an illusion. There is only assertiveness and its sister, disempowerment. Any appearance of empowerment is more likely to be a minor grant, from a position of greater power, or a balance of power that results in compromise. Even an enlightened being still lives in that world, for now, though they don’t share its motivations. Real empowerment is not only possible, however, but it is also the natural result of enlightenment. It just might not be noticed.

Author: sbwheeler

Retired IT consultant.

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