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Empowerment

When I was a kid I bought a chemistry set out of my allowance. It wasn’t much of a chemistry set but it had a few test tubes, an alcohol burner, some little jars containing very benign chemicals and a book of experiments.

I never did any of the experiments.

In fact, for a long time I was never really sure why I bought the chemistry set in the first place. I had no interest in science. When I wasn’t tearing around outside, I tended to devote my free time to drawing, music and reading. Science ranked up near math for me and math was a total and unwelcome mystery.

Still, I liked having that chemistry set and I set up a little lab in the basement on a table my mother gave me. I spent time testing things with litmus paper just to watch it turn red or blue, melted wax to make candles and used my alcohol burner mostly to bend glass tubing or to light cigarettes I had snuck out of my mother’s pack.

Every now and then I would take money I had saved from my allowance and go to the hobby store to buy more test tubes or benign chemicals. I liked buying stuff for my lab; I just didn’t like trying to understand the purpose for it all.

Over the years, I have come to understand that while I had no interest in chemistry, I found having my own little lab somewhat empowering. It was mine, a place that was different from anything else in our family. It was a place where I was in control even if it was only the control of making little candles and bending glass tubes.

We live at a point in time where many feel that our system is broken and events are spinning beyond our control. We often feel helpless to effect change and it leaves us frustrated, angry and sometimes afraid. We hunger to be empowered so that we can regain control of our lives, our systems and our nations but we stumble over how to achieve that empowerment.

We band together on social media where we quickly find others who feel as we do about various issues. We don’t know them, their values and motives are a mystery to us but we reinforce each other’s opinions and attitudes no matter how accurate or complete the information upon which they are based and we feel empowered.

We leap from issue to issue without really accomplishing more than a fleeting sense of having done something.

One moment, we are expressing our outrage over the shooting of Trayvon Martin but completely oblivious a year later to a similar shooting. We fail to recognize that we never did resolve the causes of those shootings and frustration continues to grow as nothing seems to change and it soon overwhelms whatever sense of momentary empowerment we  felt.

Some of us join groups like Occupy and Idle No More. Grand words are spoken and actions are organized. Inevitably these groups attract militants and anarchists. Buildings are vandalized. Blockades, flash mobs and traffic disruptions provide a sense of empowerment but it is an illusion usually degenerating into an exercise in brute force, random acts of violence and which typically accomplishes little other than more anger and frustration and fear.

Real empowerment isn’t bestowed on us and it isn’t found in loud and siruptive mobs, protest gangs or committees. It comes from within.

Consider for amount how much Occupy actually accomplished beyond noise and millions of dollars in damages. This was a world-wide movement that received significant media attention, support from all levels of society and a fair degree of financial support. Today it is irrelevant to whatever discussion are taking place in the world and is ridiculed.

I believe it is because Occupy, like Idle No More and other groups of their kind, was little more than frustrated and angry people who have no clear understanding of why they’re angry or how to fix things. They quickly draw others who feel equally as uneasy but who have never bothered to learn and understand the facts about the issues that are causing it. Anger based on misinformation and lack of knowledge that is expressed loudly or violently is no substitute for the truth spoken quietly.

They gather in person and on social media. Misinformation is passed along, self-appointed leaders appear and disappear the group takes on a life of its own with no clear objectives and no defined or achievable goals. It builds anger and that anger generates intolerance for any who disagree with the group. It becomes an exercise in Righteous Mind rather than bestowing empowerment.

Real empowerment comes from living a set of values and principles based on morality, spirituality (however you define it), integrity, compassion and on focus and commitment.

Mother Theresa, a tiny woman living and working a slum accomplished more than Occupy has or Idle No More ever will. Her empowerment came from her faith and her commitment to serving others. She didn’t need others to make her feel empowered.

She simply was empowered because she refused to believe that she wasn’t. People who see themselves as victims need loud angry groups to give them a feeling of empowerment. People who are empowered need nothing other than themselves to be empowered.

It is the same with Nelson Mandela who spent most of his adult life in prison and yet, in a few short years after his release led the transformation of South Africa. He accomplished what all the riots and protests had failed to do because he, quite simply was empowered by his character and his sense of justice.

These are people who spoke quietly but who were so self-empowered, their actions were louder than all the yelling and screaming of activists, protesters, demonstrators and politicians in Parliament.

There are no Nelson Mandelas or Mother Theresa’s in Occupy, Idle No More or the countless other environmental, political parties and other protest organizations. In the end they are little more than angry, sometimes self-indulgent mobs with poorly defined objectives and even fewer ideas on how to resolve anything.

Too many of us join groups like these – group that often commit actions that at some point violate what we believe in. We rationalize it away as being for the greater good but empowerment is not built on ‘the ends justify the means’ nor is it found in compromising our values.

You cannot overcome violence with violence and you cannot defeat injustice by trampling the rights of others or by treating them unjustly. It is not possible to build anything worthwhile on a foundation of misinformation and half truths and you cannot turn lies into truth by yelling them loudly.

You cannot build a just and fair society by breaking the law or refusing to respect those with whom you disagree.

Prejudice and hatred will not be overcome through the exercise of intolerance, prejudice and hatred  and accusations of racism, genocide and tyranny directed at those with whom you disagree remain untrue no matter how loudly they are screamed.

In the end, I believe it simply comes down to this. We will each only become truly empowered when we refuse to allow anyone whether it is the state or some organization control how we think and what we do. We will only find empowerment by assuming full responsibility for our own lives and by refusing to compromise our principles.

Anything less is like a kid playing with a chemistry set in his basement. It feels empowering but it is an illusion. Nothing is being accomplished, nothing is being learned and in the end all you have to show for all that time are a few small hand-made candles and some bent glass tubing.

We never seem to learn but perhaps it is because we never really stop being angry and afraid long enough to  understand why we are angry and  afraid.

Perhaps one day we will come to understand that fear and anger do not empower,; they weaken us by causing us to compromise our values and put aside our principles.

Perhaps one day – but not today.

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© 2012 Maggie’s Bear
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  • Art Student

    Absolutely beautifully written and very compelling. There are so many wonderful points in this post and in your comments! You’ve articulated something that has been on my mind since INM started. When I heard about it in its infancy, I huffed under my breath and said, ‘Here we go again.’ I can’t tell you why but my initial reaction made me sad.

    I deleted my twitter account because I was being dragged into this angry, seething frenzy of misinformed people. There are so many sides to this painful, cancerous issue… and no, I don’t mean the beautiful culture that I was brought up to respect and admire when I don’t have a drop of Native blood in me. There are problems with the Indian Act and how the government and FN are handling it… but then, I can’t imagine when there wasn’t. And if there ever comes a time when everyone who is screaming for justice finally gets what they want, they would only want more. (I’m actually reminded of a quote from Heath Ledger’s Joker character. He says, ‘I’m like a dog chasing a car. I wouldn’t know what to do with it if I caught one!)

    Also, I have come to realize from the many painful mistakes in my past that by ‘showing off’ or ‘flaunting’ ones’ values like a gaudy bauble does nothing but infuriate others which closes doors, burns bridges and breeds negativity. Wearing our beliefs on our arm, on our forehead or waving it around like a banner only cheapens that person who is carrying on. It’s not about telling people what you believe, it’s about showing them in actions. And I guess that’s what you were trying to relay in referencing the likes of Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela.

    Now whenever I’m in the midst of debates about INM I listen instead of speak. And when I get the chance, I refer them to this site. ;) You are doing a wonderful service by merely sharing your thoughts with us. Thank you very much for the time that you have put into your well informed posts and patient attention to the people who respond to your blog.

    Cheers
    -From an avid reader.

    • http://abearsrant.com thebear

      Thank you for the very kind words. I have no monopoly on the best way to approach things nor am I trying to convince people of my point of view. But I would like people to be informed before they start shouting their opinions and to take the time to consider the opinions of others. What we saw today underscores the real problem in trying to resolve aboriginal issues. There is no agreement with the government of Canada because there is no agreement among the First Nations.

      There is a hypocrisy in all of this. First Nations claim to be sovereign but expect the government to finance that sovereignty. They claim to be a peaceful culture but many have rioted, burned bridges, damaged public and private property, bullied and intimidated others who have nothing to do with their issues. Now some chiefs are planning a national day of action to try and “drive the Canadian economy to it’s knees”. Their words, not mine.

      They have a government that is willing to listen and to negotiate. They have a prime minister who is concerned and open to discussion. It is the politics of the First Nations and the constantly shifting demands that are preventing things from progressing.

      It’s unfortunate but that’s the price of activism these days. Action before thought and so we all just dig the hole a little deeper before we start to work together to try and climb out of it.

  • http://www.susanjeanricci.com Susan Ricci

    Great post, Mags Bear. Very well said!

  • Pingback: A Bears Rant | Grumpy Opinions

  • glenn nolan

    great line “We never seem to learn but perhaps it is because we never really stop being angry and afraid long enough to understand why we are angry and afraid” you nailed it with that comment. meegwetch for sharing.

    I am a first nation person who has taken the road away from dependancy (all my life) and see the imperfections of reserve creation and continued support as a cultural, spiritual and dehumanizing exercise (accidental or by design). Community members have to break free of the bonds that government imposed (Indian Act) and that many of my First Nation brothers and sisters have bought into and continue to allow their lives to be dictated by something as degrading as the Indian Act.

    Too many leaders in Canada continue to forget that our ancestors worked hard for their freedom as truly independent people. Today they focus on asking for more dependancy chains and not freeing our communities.

    I could go on further but I will probably be repeating myself.

    • http://abearsrant.com thebear

      I believe we are too quick to divide ourselves up into factions because we are afraid to stand on our own. Those factions do not empower us, they muddy the waters. I don’t have a position on how aboriginal issues should be resolved but I understand that they won’t be resolved until the First Nations come together and define a universally acceptable direction and set of objectives. Only then can they hope to negotiate and settle those issues with the federal government. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening as long as many continue to see themselves as victims rather than people who have it within themselves to live their values and in that find personal empowerment that no group or faction can provide. As you so correctly point out, dependency does not lead to independence and seeing ones self as a victim does not lead to freedom.

      It is as true of non-aboriginal groups and factions as it is of indigenous people.

      • Gordon

        “I don’t see that happening as long as many continue to see themselves as victims rather than people who have it within themselves to live their values and in that find personal empowerment that no group or faction can provide.”

        Exactly! That’s why I’ve been turned off of most blogs. Too many take a victim-stance and victim outlook instead of writing their own stories/narratives.

        Funny that most people feel that they’re alone in this UNTIL they get talking to other people.

        Great post.