Mawi AsgedomChicago, ILJuly 13, 2010
What does it mean to empower a young person, or for that matter, to empower any human being?
Right now, virtually all of you are reading this post using your eyes. Your eyes take in all sorts of images: the computer screen, your hand, the wall. I myself am sitting in front of a window and can see a spruce tree, a lawn I need to mow shortly, and some beautiful Impatiens planted by my wife.
What's less obvious is that there is another world, an internal world that is visible to any one of us who takes time to see it. Instead of trees or computer screens, this inner world consists of things such as goals, discipline, perseverance, compassion, and initiative.
For example, my 10-week old daughter, if I place her on the floor, may scream madly, but one thing she cannot do is MOVE. She will stay on the floor, in the same place, unless I move her. As she gets older, she will hopefully be able to crawl, and walk, and run and this ability to move will give her new power in the external world.
Now, let's say that my daughter is 16, and is upset because she tried out for the school play and failed to get a part despite extensive rehearsing. Although this scenario seems different than the infant-on-the-floor scenario, the key question is the same: Can my daughter move?
In the external world, we move with our arms and legs; in the internal world we move through initiative. If my daughter chooses to have initiative, she can take acting classes, write and produce a new play that she performs with her friends, or find a casting company outside of school. But my daughter cannot move if she lacks initiative.
We all know people who can move quite well externally, but cannot move at all in the internal world. In a very real sense, they are at the internal developmental level of an infant, as helpless to the larger world as my 10-week old daughter. At the same time, we all know people who are stuck in wheelchairs but have tremendous internal movement that allows them to create astounding results.
The above scenarios describe just one source of internal power, initiative. Alternative scenarios could be created to highlight other internal powers such as discipline or empathy.
Think about yourself for a second. Can you see both worlds? Can you see initiative, discipline, and all the other invisible sources of power you have inside you as vividly as you see the external world?
To answer the question posed at the beginning: You are empowered if you can see and navigate your internal world.