Transforming the Nature
Goldstein Director, The
Women’s Institute at Omega
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Activism main page
Principle 3. Empowerment
We use power to
empower others rather than to dominate over others.
As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able
to remake the world—that is the myth of the atomic age—as in
being able to remake ourselves.
Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth, has brought to
the world’s attention the need to radically change our relationship
to power. To save our planet, we must find alternative, clean,
renewable sources of power that support all of life’s systems.
The same thing can be said about the need to change our relationship
to personal power. We must shift from a paradigm of hoarding power
for purposes of using itover others to sharing power and lifting
others. The spiritual activism principle of empowerment calls on
us to take personal responsibility for transforming the nature
of power by “doing” power differently.
Every living thing is animated by power and has power to use.
Whether it’s a plant photosynthesizing the sun or a squirrel running
up a tree, it is using energy/power to fuel action. As social animals
dependent on each other for survival, we use power to navigate
our social relationships, and this power has the capacity to heal
the world if we commit ourselves to using it for that purpose.
Many have said that human action is fueled, or powered, by either
love or fear. When our actions are born out of fear, we grasp for
safety. While fear is an innate response helpful for heading off
danger, what we perceive as dangerous or threatening to our survival
has become ubiquitous. Even though modern culture has largely eliminated
the daily battle for survival, the same culture leads us to believe
that our very survival depends on accumulating alarger share of
the limited supply of stuff and on controllling others.Having more
stuff and more control will give us more power; if we have morepower,
we think we will be safe. An imbalance of fear is driving us to
all the wrong places for our survival.
The problem with fear is that it is self-perpetuating. The more
fearful we are, the more willing we are to sacrifice others for
our own self-preservation. As we act defensively, we move further
into a state of disconnection. As psychoanalyst Erich Fromm states
in his book, The Art of Loving, “the experience of separateness
arouses anxiety; it is, indeed, the source of all anxiety.” The
thicker the barrier between us, the easier it is to be non-caring
or violent towards each other. When we are in the grip of fear
in non-emergent circumstances we give up the very source of true
safety – being vulnerable and taking care of each other.
In contrast to fear, the power of love has been described in poetry,
song, liturgy, and art, as that which brings us together, heals
us, elevates us to our highest potential, and connects us to that
which is sacred. Love is also said to be infinite, which means
that as a source of personal power it is completely renewable,
self-generating, can be gifted freely, has the magical qualities
of lifting things up and can make the sum of the whole greater
than its parts. Humans, with our capacity for love, are miraculous
generators of this infinite source of power.
The promise of love as a source of power is that, like fear, it
is also self-perpetuating. The more loving we are, the more nurturing
conditions we create, which builds a world of true safety where
we can open ourselves, freeing our creativity and innate yearning
to build lives with meaning.
Each person, regardless of circumstances, has the capacity to
choose love as the motivation for action. Even in the most horrific
situations such as being captive during the Holocaust or being
a survivor of rape, there is the capacity to choose to act from
love instead of fear. As Victor Frankl writes in his book, A
Man’s Search for Meaning:
We who lived in concentration camps can remember
the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving
away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number,
but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken
from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to
choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose
one's own way.
And as Eve Ensler, founder of V-Day says
about her work around the world with women who have suffered the
worst kinds of gender violence:
As I have traveled these last eight years, I have
had the honor to meet women and men across this planet who have
witnessed or suffered enormous violence, and rather than getting
an AK47 or a machete, they feel this violence, grieve this violence
and allow it to transform within their beings. Then they devote
their lives to making sure it never happens to another woman
or girl. … They are women and men who constantly sacrifice their
own personal security and by doing so create real safety and
freedom for the rest.
If we can become the transformers of power by cultivating a new
way of being together in our everyday lives, then we help reverse
the downward spiral from fear to love, from war to peace, from
alienation to connection.
Just as it will take incredible individual and collective effort—
unprecedented in scale and speed— to change our behavior to address
the fuel power crisis, the same exertion must be made to change
the way we use our personal power. This takes awareness, practice,
and commitment, but each step perpetuates the next and creates
multipliers of support for the transformation of power. And, importantly,
changing the personal power paradigm is key to successfully addressing
the fuel power crisis and visa versa.
We don’t need to be living directly in the midst of horrific suffering
in order to apply a new way of holding power. Our relationship
to power can change right now in our everyday lives, including
how we are with our family, friends, neighbors, colleagues and
strangers. It helps to know that millions of people around the
world are dedicated to making this change. As Paul Hawkins says
in his book, Blessed Unrest: Why the Largest Movement in The
World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming, “I now
believe there are over one—and maybe even two— million organizations
working toward ecological sustainability and social justice.”
To help bring a deeper level of awareness to your own issues around
power and to suggest some practices for becoming a power transformer,
listed below are some ideas for doing power differently.
1. Taking A Personal Power Inventory: Raising your own
awareness about your motivation for action is a good practice that
you can do anytime, anywhere. Throughout your day, ask yourself
what is the motivation for action? Is it fear based and self-protective
or are you acting from a place of love and compassion? Are you
sharing your power to support someone else? Or are you using power
to make yourself feel more than someone else?
2. Sharing Your Access: Identify a way in which you have
access to powerful relationships or information and identify someone
you know who doesn’t have the same kind of access but would benefit
from these resources and help them gain access.
3. Surrendering Control: Identify a situation in which
you typically take control and instead let someone else be in charge.
Becoming accustomed to the feelings associated with allowing others
to be in control is good practice for breaking the “need to control”
4. Releasing Your Grip: Identify one way in which you are
using your power over others in order to make yourself feel more
secure. This could be in a parent/child relationship, a consumer/sales
relationship, a hierarchical work relationship—anywhere that you
feel or are trying to feel you have “one up” on someone else. Find
a way to reorient yourself so that you can release your power grip
over others and experience your true equality.
5. Giving Credit Away: By acknowledging others for their
contributions to work projects, family meals, or community efforts,
you remind yourself of your interdependence and can see how the
power of others helps you. This is a good grounding for when you
get lost in your own need for credit or to be seen above others.
6. Taking Responsibility For Avoiding Old Paradigm Power: Identify
a situation in which someone is using power over you that is disempowering.
Create the support you need through friends, family, co-workers,
or professional helpers, to transform that circumstance, including
your own attitude or approach.
7. Building A New Power Paradigm Network: Tap into the
growing network of millions of people around the world who believe
we can make this shift in how we use power and are doing it right
now. There is an emerging global community that can be found in
websites, books, and in organizations that is setting out to make
this profound transformation. Check out http://www.wiserearth.org which
is a community directory and networking forum for not-for-profit
and non-governmental organizations addressing the central issues
of our day: climate change, poverty, the environment, peace, water,
hunger, social justice, conservation, human rights, and more.
Carla Goldstein, J.D., is Omega's Director of External
Affairs and Director of The Women's Institute at Omega. Carla is
an attorney with 20 years of experience in public interest advocacy
and has worked extensively in city and state government on issues
related to women's rights, poverty, public health and social justice.
She has contributed to over 100 city, state and federal laws. Carla
has appeared on local and national radio and television and makes
public presentations to a wide range of audiences on issues related
to women’s empowerment and activism. Prior to joining the Omega
Institute, Carla was the VP for Public Affairsat Planned Parenthood
of New York City where she directed the agency'sadvocacy and strategic
communications work. She also served as the foundingdirector of
the PPNYC Action Fund, the political arm of PPNYC. For eight years
Carla was an adjunct professor at CUNY Queens College, where she
taught, “Law and Social Justice,” a course designed to empower
students to be effective advocates for progressive social change.
As part of Omega’s Faculty, Carla teaches “Spiritual Activism,”
a workshop designed to help people develop their activism in creative
ways that align with their values and lives.
Founded in 1977, Omega is
the nation's largest holistic learning center whose mission is
provide innovative educational experiences that awaken the best
in the human spirit, providing hope and healing for individuals
and society. Every year more than 20,000 people attend workshops,
retreats, and conferences on its 195-acre campus in the countryside
of Rhinebeck, New York, and at other sites around the country.
Women’s Institute, a dynamic new component of Omega, is dedicated
to empowering women around the world. It has grown out of the
momentum created by the annual Women and Power conferences that
Omega Institute has presented in partnership with V-Day since
2002. It seeks to sustain throughout the year the community and
inspiration generated at the conferences. Women’s deep wisdom
is essential to the creation of a more sustainable and loving
culture in every facet of life, from the personal to the political.
The Women’s Institute provides opportunities for women and men
to inspire and strengthen their visions and authentic voices
through unique learning and community building experiences.
For more information, visit www.eomega.org.