Saturday, 18 January 2014

Seeking empowerment frees no one.

Waterstones clings to the high street like a pugnacious journeyman boxer. Each store standing proud despite the youthful combination punches of johnny-come-lately Amazon and rapacious local authority imposed rates. And each different and each constantly seeking ways to remain relevant and attractive to readers, writers and the original sort of browser.

Manchester’s finest bookshop has recently had a focus on ‘personal development’. None too original perhaps given the time of year, but fairly successful if one goes by the quantity of Greg Bradon’s work passing though the tills. From fad diets to tomes on comparative religions, from self-help books on career management to guides to improve one’s chances in the roulette of love, the buyers on Deansgate certainly have been busy. What their selection has to say on the state of the Northern psyche is probably best left to another post.

One word though shines through all the hand written blurbs, posted to support this and that selection; Empowerment. Self-empowerment is where it is at at the moment. Want to shed a few pounds of Festive indulgence? Then get some self-empowerment along with the energy drink and jogging bottoms. Looking for a New Year pay rise? Pack some self-empowerment into that shiny new laptop bag along with the Time Management for Dummies that was brought as a last minute gift. Whatever failings last year may have thrown up self-empowerment will, in 2014, put right.


Self-empowerment is, not only by its very nature but more importantly by its stated aim, a floored ideal. Like Turlington’s Balsam it cannot deliver on the promises made for it by those who seek to make money out of peddling it. It can only lock the seeker into a journey along a fruitless, often expensive and ultimately frustrating Mobius strip.

To achieve self-empowered one must develop power over one’s self. And that is ultimately self-defeating. For to have power over one’s self requires us to reduce the power others have over us. Taken to its obvious conclusion we all end up self-empowered, individual entities where responsibility, care & nurture, service and devotion are removed from what it means to be human. Man in solitary confinement has, rather than finding freedom, built his own prison.

Set aside self-empowerment and seek service and one’s world changes dramatically. Rather than focus on the self and how to be this and that, focus on the many and ask “How can I serve?”

See not evil in being a servant but enlightenment in being part of something greater than the self.