How We As Humans Can Empower Each Other
Yesterday, Thursday, 21 March, was Human Rights Day, a public holiday designed to commemorate the progress South Africa has made in the promotion of citizens’ basic rights. To rectify ills of the past, we now have a progressive constitution that outlines the freedoms we’re entitled to – it exists to protect us, but also to empower us, to help us thrive and develop into the best versions of ourselves.
Such a constitution is critical, but it doesn’t unfortunately have all that much bearing on the myriad subtle, often barely noticeable, ways some of us disenfranchise people in our lives, including those we love.
In every interaction, we have a choice: to empower or to disempower. If we really want to honour the rights of others, we need to do the former.
With this in mind, here’s how we as humans can empower each other daily through our roles as a family member, a friend, a colleague and a member of the community.
As a Family Member
Sometimes the people we’re meant to know best – our family members – are the ones we understand the least. Our proximity to them diminishes our ability to really, truly see them. How do we empower our spouses, our children, our parents and our siblings? We commit to making the effort to understand what makes them tick, what excites them, what motivates them, and we do our best to help them live in those moments more often. We observe and then we encourage and praise, and we withhold criticism and dispiriting remarks.
We also often fall into the habit of either telling our family members what to do (especially when it comes to our partners) or doing it for them (especially when it comes to our children). Neither of those acts are empowering. Rather, we should practice restraint and let our nearest and dearest do things their way, on their terms, and on their own. By giving our loved ones room to figure things out, we communicate confidence in their ability to do so, and in turn make them feel more capable.
As a Friend
There is little that’s more empowering than the feeling of being heard.
Many psychologists base their practice on the power of compassionate listening. And if we want to build up our friends, it’s something we should consider in our interactions with them, too. If we really listen to what our confidants are saying – and we show them so with appropriate body language – we express genuine interest in their thoughts and experiences and we essentially say, “You matter”.
Part of being an empowering friend also entails occasionally asking difficult questions – the ones our buddies might be avoiding. By helping our friends to face challenges head on and to actively learn about themselves, we help to give them the tools they need to flourish.
As a Colleague
It’s easy to be so focused on our own career goals and daily duties that we forget about the aspirations of our co-workers. We should all try to step outside of our own space a little more at work, to identify strengths in others and find ways to help them foster their talents. We can bring about powerful change if we focus more on what our colleagues can do than on what they can’t.
If we praise our co-workers, celebrate their wins and assist them when they struggle, we’ll do wonders for their confidence and growth.
As a manager, empowering employees has a lot to do with giving – giving them the space, time, freedom and autonomy they need to learn, test out new ideas, innovate, come up with their own solutions and pursue their own goals, both professional and personal.
As a Member of the Community
Remember the following saying?
Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.
You can empower others immensely by mentoring and tutoring them in a discipline you have knowledge in. Teaching a child to read or an adult to use a computer could change the trajectory of their lives. And it doesn’t take all that much from you.
If you want to help empower members of your community, volunteer with an organisation that focuses on skill sharing and upliftment. When picking a cause, it might be worth thinking about basic human rights in South Africa that aren’t being upheld – the right to education, housing, clean water and healthcare, for example – and starting there. There are plenty of initiatives out there trying to fill those gaps.
You can also serve as a scaffolding in society simply by opening your eyes to people around you who are trying to succeed, and then giving them the encouragement and support they need. Stop and listen to a musician busking on the side of the street, or attend amateur artists’ live shows and exhibitions. It’ll take only an hour of your time but may make the world of difference to them.
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