Posted by: terrapraeta | February 18, 2010

From the Archives: Empowerment

Most people think,
Great god will come from the skies,
Take away everything
And make everybody feel high.
But if you know what life is worth,
You will look for yours on earth:
And now you see the light,
You stand up for your rights. jah!

Get up, stand up! (jah, jah! )
Stand up for your rights! (oh-hoo! )
Get up, stand up! (get up, stand up! )
Don’t give up the fight! (life is your right! )
Get up, stand up! (so we can’t give up the fight! )
Stand up for your rights! (lord, lord! )
Get up, stand up! (keep on struggling on! )
Don’t give up the fight! (yeah! )

Bob Marley, Get Up, Stand Up

Over the last several days, I have read and discussed a few separate issues that all have tracked back to a single fundamental idea that I have been developing. I expect that I will take some heat on this one…. but I honestly believe that all of our assumptions and beliefs about our lack of power over our own lives, jobs, governments etc are fundamentally incorrect.

Let’s start with a reference. If you haven’t done so yet, I strongly recommend reading The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. He deals with a slew of issues, basically discussing how and why new ideas, behaviors, trends, fashion and so forth move through large populations. The specific case I want to reference addresses the response of city folk to crime on the street.

I don’t have the book in front of me, so bear with me as I try to paraphrase from memory.

Imagine a case where a woman on a city street is being attacked. That particular segment of street is overlooked by a dozen windows, people are generally home (and the neighborhood knows it), and the woman is screaming for help. In this case, it is likely that no one will respond to her cries. Horrible, isn’t it. Makes us proud that we aren’t inner city folk. No… wrong moral.

Now, imagine that same woman being attacked in a deserted alleyway and a single person comes walking by. Chance are, in this case, that single person will be a ‘hero’ for responding to her plight and rendering whatever aid possible. But again, this is not the moral of the story.

What we find in studies of group dynamics, is that our human ability to take action in a crisis (or take responsibility for another) is severely hampered by the mere existence of other individuals. The thought process falls somewhere along the side of ‘someone will help…’ whereas, when we are alone and it is apparent that no one else can respond, we will generally step up to the task.

Interesting, no?

So apply this to politics. Why are people, in general, so convinced of their powerlessness? Because they compare their ‘power’ vs the great mass of humanity that is not them. Seems reasonable and rational, but I propose that, in fact, it is absolutely the wrong conclusion to make, for all of the wrong reasons. Let me explain why.

    1)Only an individual person can ever make a choice. Governments can not make choices, corporations can not make choices, Book Clubs can not make choices. Only the individuals participating have that ability.

    2)The first choice anyone makes in any situation is the choice whether or not to accept responsibility for a given situation. Do I help, or do I considered it somebody else’s problem?. No choice is still a choice.

    3)Any choice to act will always have consequences greater than the choice itself. This may not be as obvious as it appears, so I will explain. Making the choice, has a consequence: the action, and the direct consequences of that action. But there are also secondary (and perhaps tertiary, etc) consequences. One indirect consequence might be to empower others to act, as well.

    4)β€œThe Tipping Point,” itself, refers to the amount of change necessary, in any group, to create change for the group as a whole. It is the point where a new fashion becomes fashionable, the point where an idea becomes the ‘assumption’ rather than the ‘controversial new thing’ and the point where all of the neighbors on that street come rushing out to help the woman in need.

So what is the tipping point for personal empowerment, itself? How many people in this country are required to change our political landscape from one of elitists playing both sides against the middle, apathetic citizenry and complete lack of personal empowerment, to one where everyone participates, everyone takes a stand and everyone knows that their opinion matters?

I don’t know the answer to that question. The system is too complicated for me to make a projection. But I do believe that the only way we will ever get there is by individual people making a choice to take responsibility and voice their opinions, take action, be involved. More importantly, I do believe that if enough individuals do exactly this, we CAN make a difference, be the change we want to see in the world.



  1. So… I had a really good “weekend” the last couple days. I needed it. But it left me little time for writing… so maybe by tomorrow, certainly by next Monday, I will be back on it πŸ˜€


  2. Tipping point comments always remind me of the quote:

    “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. ” — Max Planck

    But I also think that any “political landscape” that has any sort of centralized decision making power will tend toward “elitists playing both sides against the middle…”

    But then, I’m a pessimist.


  3. Hey —

    You gotta know I agree with you on the “political landscape” — but this applies just as effectively towards a third way… or the ten k ways πŸ˜‰

    I like that Plank quote… but then Gladwell seems to illuminate one way change occurs that does not fit his statement. All interesting stuff.


  4. I think that Gladwell compliments Planck in this. The tipping point is reached when enough of the old guard is gone (Or, at least, no longer actively resisting) and enough of the new guard has arrived.


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