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How can Australians feel more empowered?

We need to look at the question of empowerment from a different perspective moving forward, writes Chris Lisha. 

One of the frustrations I seem to encounter both in my personal life and in my work is the frequency of disempowerment. When I experience situations that lead me or others to feel as though we are unable to make a difference, we are unable to have our say or we are blocked from improving our life, it is normal to feel disempowered.

But what about people who lived in earlier times? How much power did people have in pre-historic times? If I was unable to hunt for food or gather food, I would die of starvation. Then in feudal times, if I was born into a peasant family, I had virtually no power. And what about during the 19th century industrial age? The ruling class controlled everything. If the only thing I had to sell was my labour, I had very little power to influence my destiny.

During the 20th century, change became exponential. Technology, democracy and a more egalitarian society now provides us with opportunities that our ancestors could never have dreamed of.

Yes, we still have injustice, inequity, cruelty and poverty. However, if we maintain some sense of perspective and we nurture our core beliefs, it may be possible to overcome adversity.

We should never forget that as individuals, there are times when we stand alone. During times of greatest tragedy and greatest triumph, there may be no choice other than to stand alone. I believe this is natural and normal and is part of what makes us human. Maintaining our independence, in spite of our vulnerable and fragile condition, may provide us with freedom.

I believe our inspiration comes from two sources. Outside ourselves, we may draw inspiration from others who have overcome great adversity – Joan of Arc, Abraham Lincoln, Mary MacKillop, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela. Then, within ourselves, we may also draw inspiration by reminding ourselves of what we might achieve even though we have limitations and vulnerability.

Rafael Nadal recently won his 11th French Open title. He had to overcome a crippling hand injury to win. Out on Centre Court at Roland Garros, he had to stand alone. Yes, he had his support team right there, but there was no one else to hold his racquet, no one else to hit the ball. On court, it was all up to him. And he achieved victory without any tantrums and without shouting or abusing lines people or umpires. He overcame his own limitations and a much younger opponent with grace and humility.

So, what has this got to do with empowerment? Maybe everything!

I wonder what would happen if we recognise that our journey will inevitably contain some good moments mixed with trials, tribulations and hardship? I also wonder if this recognition might help us to change our expectations? In our modern society, where we are surrounded by instant communication, instant photos and videos, instant hot water and a whole heap of other instant things, perhaps we seek instant gratification a little too often?

Richard Carlson, in his book Don't Sweat The Small Stuff, says:

"Our disappointment comes about in essentially two ways. When we're experiencing pleasure, we want it to last forever. It never does. Or, when we're experiencing pain, we want it to go away now. It usually doesn't. Unhappiness is the result of struggling against the natural flow of experience."

"Life is just one present moment followed by another present moment. When something is happening that we enjoy, know that while it's wonderful… it will eventually be replaced by something else, a different type of moment. If that's okay with you, you'll feel peace even when the moment changes. And if you're experiencing some type of pain... know that this too will pass."

Yes, I will need help from time to time to deal with some moments. In addition, I will also need to help myself. There will be moments when I may have great difficulty in helping myself. It may even be impossible for me to help myself in certain situations. 

That's when I may need to reach out for help and then accept it, with grace and humility, when it arrives. Furthermore, when I care for myself and help myself, I am actually in a better condition to help others.

For the rest of the time, it might be okay for me to stand alone. And in so doing, I'll be building my resilience, my independence and my freedom.

I might also be empowering myself.

Chris Lisha is a crisis counsellor with Lifeline. The views expressed here are his own, from his LinkedIn page and are not the views of Lifeline.

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“Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” – Mark Twain