Empowerment is a concept synonymous with our times. We hear a lot about the empowerment of women, teens, and other groups in society. But I’m not entirely sure we all share the same understanding of what empowerment means.
As a parent, I want to empower our children to transition into positive, functional, adult members of the community. I suspect most parents would have similar aspirations. Yet increasingly I hear empowerment being referred to in a way that is at odds with the notion of community.
Can empowerment and community happily co-exist in the twenty first century?
The dictionary describes empowerment as, ‘to give power or authority to’. So, when I think of empowering our children, it’s not about giving them the power to do whatever they please. It’s about giving them the knowledge and ability to make informed choices that are beneficial both to themselves and the society in which they live.
The context is always within community. An individual living as the sole occupant on an island can make whatever choices they please, they impact no-one. Not so the person living in a community.
Earlier this year the principal of a Sydney girl’s school provided some guidelines around appropriate attire for their upcoming mufti day. She advised that girls wearing revealing tops or shorts would be sent home to change. She also encouraged the students to consider the impact on others within their school community – the male teachers.
For this advice, the principal was reprimanded by the Department of Education and asked to apologise to the students.
One student who had complained about the principal said that instead of focusing on the girls dressing appropriately, they should be focused on “empowering female students”.
Empowerment is not about giving permission to do whatever you please with no consideration for others in your community.
Considerate of Community
We seem to be able to adjust our behaviour for the consideration of others in so many other facets of community life – slowing down in school zones, how loud we play our music late at night, even adhering to dress codes in many clubs and restaurants. Yet for some reason, this principal’s stance was considered ‘inappropriate’, disempowering the girls.
There is a ‘u’ in Community
You’ve no doubt heard it said that there’s no ‘I’ in team, and while there IS an ‘i’ in community, there is also a ‘u’. And therein lies the issue, in an increasingly self-obsessed world, we’re losing the ability to consider the impact of our decisions on others.
We don’t all share the same values
Think for a moment about home security. I should be able to go to the shops at the end of my street without locking all the doors and windows in the house. I should be able to leave my car out on the driveway and not worry about whether it will still be there in the morning.
But the reality is that I live in a community, where not everyone shares my values. Rather than expecting everyone else to live according to my values or ideals, I take responsibility for that which is within my control. I lock the house when I leave, I’ve installed a house alarm, and I lock our car in the garage.
Empowering for community
How do we empower our children for community?
- Teach your kids to live with a community mindset – it’s counter-cultural, but encourage them to consider the impact of their decisions on others.
- Give them the knowledge and ability to make choices in the society in which they live to keep themselves and others safe. In the example of the school mufti day, which would be more empowering – engaging the girls in a conversation about the over sexualisation of young women and personal safety, or giving them license to wear whatever they please?
- Discuss the concept of sacrifice – not a particularly popular word, but an essential element of community. Role model service and sacrifice within your community – whether it’s your school, church, sporting club, or neighbourhood. In all those communities there will be many opportunities to be involved, and there will be ample opportunity to demonstrate balancing the needs of an individual within the broader context of community.