What is the difference between power and empowerment?
Knowing and living the difference between power (control) and empowerment
is perhaps the most important distinction in creating a life of genuine self-expression and accomplishment.
What is power?
Power is fairly simple and straightforward. If we ask ourselves directly and honestly, we know where we have power. For example, under normal conditions, we all have the power to brush our teeth, to pick up the telephone and dial a number, to open our mouth and say “yes” or “no,” to write or speak a request, to show up for an appointment on time.
We can acquire and develop knowledge, tools, and relationships that can increase the number and type of events we have power over. Almost all of education (unfortunately) is focused only on how to acquire more power. Empowerment is usually treated as if it did not exist or was not centrally relevant to one’s life and education.
We all want power. We all need power. It helps us to predict and control outcomes and to feel safer and act more safely. However, our single-minded focus on power and control disempowers us. We neglect the domain of empowerment, the domain in which we have no guarantee our actions will cause the results we want.
What is empowerment?
Consider again the examples given above.
We have the power to brush our teeth; but we cannot guarantee our teeth will be cavity-free.
We have the power to dial a number; but we cannot guarantee the person we want to speak with will be there.
We have the power to say “no” to a request from a friend to borrow money; but we cannot guarantee our friend will take our refusal in the spirit of friendship.
We have the power to request that we be hired for a job; but we cannot guarantee that we will get the job.
We have the power to show up for an appointment on time; but we cannot guarantee the other person will show up on time or even at all.
We have power and control over a million things. But there are ten billion other things that we can’t control.
Becoming more and more aware of where we have control and where we don’t is a choice of courage, again and again.
Courage is the key to empowerment.
If we always insist on power and control, we disempower ourselves, missing the countless opportunities for courageous action–courageous action that will bring joy and results to our lives that power and control alone can never do.
Our insistence of power or control in a circumstance where we have none will give us stress, anxiety, and often self-criticism. A simple example for many is when they fly, while still unconsciously believing that they should have some sense of control.
When I fly...
When I fly, I completely hand over to God and the pilot what the plane will end up doing or not doing. I am completely calm and at peace because I know that I am completely powerless in whether or not the flight will remain crash-free. And, even on occasion, when there's been some bumpy turbulence, it's just fun for me, like a bonus of a roller-coaster ride.
Trying to control will destroy your influence
When we try to exert control or power over another to get them to do something (or not do something) we will often lose any influence we may have had to get the results we want with them, sometimes even making things worse than taking any action.
Many parents of teenagers learn this the hard way.
A simple example of this is when we get defensive when someone criticizes us. Defensive is an attempt to use our power to stop or deflect that criticism and blame. What most often happens is that, in trying to defend ourselves, we reinforce the position of our critic. By not recognizing and accepting that we have no power to ensure that our critic standout, we lose our ability to use of influence to diffuse their upset with us.
Continually ask yourself these questions.
“Where do I have power?” “Where do I have control?”
"Where do I lack power yet I might have influence?"
"Where do I lack power and have no ability to influence?"
"Most of us will trade anything we have for a good false sense of control."
—Brad Blanton in Radical Honesty
"There is a time to let things happen and a time to make things happen."
"If we are not responsible for the thoughts that pass our doors, we are at least responsible for those we admit and entertain."
—Charles Newcomb (screenwriter and director)
"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."
—Abraham Lincoln, (1809-1865, U.S. President)