Empower vs. Inspire….

I’ve been using the word ‘empower’ for years. It’s a great word – one that implies giving dignity to others; the whole ‘give a man a fish and he eats for a day, but teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime’ type story comes up when I hear the word empower….

It had never crossed my mind before that what this word implies is that I have the power and you do not. Therefore, let me give you the power. This also goes against my theology of humanity: that no matter our circumstances we are all uniquely created in the image of God, with our own thoughts, our own beliefs, our own strengths and weaknesses. A beautiful messy collection of broken and poor people, this word ‘empower’ implies a giving of my strength to your weakness, rather than a mutual exchange of dignity. Thereby degrading you and elevating me.

I believe that we need to stop empowering and start inspiring. The word inspire is to fill someone with the urge or ability to do or feel something (especially something creative). We inspire by living an inspired life ourselves. It is natural to be attracted to and want to spend time around inspired people. People passionate about life, creative, honest and fully present. I am inspired when I am with these people to be a better me. So what if, instead of seeking to empower, we began to seek to inspire? To focus inward in an effort to live our own lives fully, to love deeply, to be conscious in our mistakes and present to our pain.

SOURCE: Let’s Stop Empowering and Start Inspiring | Rachel Goble | Red Letter Christians.

Like the author of the above quote, these words got me to thinking about just was the word “empower” means. I also admit that I have used it frequently without really considering the meaning presented here. One of the primary tenets of  Quakerism is the equality of man. We are all considered equal in God’s eyes. He doesn’t love the millionaire, the American, or those who have power any more than the poor and the downcast. As the thought above so adequately convey the word empower implies that I am giving you the power to do something.

Yes, I thoroughly realize that in an economic sphere all men are not equal. Some have managed to accumulate vast wealth while other, for whatever reasons, struggle to just maintain a daily existence. All people might be created equal but all are not equal when it comes to money or power.

We all need people to inspire us to do things we might not tackle on our own. I have many heroes in life who inspire me in that regard. But we have to get over the idea of giving people the power to do something. They don’t need any power that we could give them, they need the inspiration of seeing that something can be accomplished if they put their minds to it.

It really is as simple as that…..

2 thoughts on “Empower vs. Inspire….

  • RJ – I like this post for it made me stop and think through the words I use for I do believe that our words carry both meaning and power. While I agree that “inspiring” others implies each of us finding the power that exists within ourselves to make a difference in the world around each of us. I also recognize that there are “structures” in our society and world that need to be torn down to enable people to discover and use their own inspiration. I like to think of this as my inspiration, if properly used, can help to empower others to seek their own inspiration and way to do this for others along their journey. We’re in this journey together but there are lots of different paths that we may each follow to make a difference in the world around us.

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  • I have always had a positive view of the word empower. It makes sense in the business world where your boss always has the power over your actions. When the boss says “I am empowering you to make your own decisions about the project” that is a good thing. But taken in the context above it is not. Life sure is complicated isn’t it.. 🙂

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