Seek Not Power, But Empowerment

I have a confession to make. I’ve been bingeing lately… on Netflix. It started as a way to pass the time when I was feeling under the weather, but then I got sucked in. Rather than doing something productive between clients (like writing a blog), I’ve found myself pulled, again and again, back to that addictive bookmark in my browser. House of CardsBlacklistRevengeThe TudorsReign – you name it, I’ve probably seen it.

The interesting thing about mainlining entire seasons of television at a time – and several series at that – is the perspective one can glean about the overarching themes that are explored. Based on the viewing category “Popular on Netflix,” it could be said that we are fascinated with power. From Frank Underwood’s antics on House of Cards to the battle between Amanda/Emily and Victoria on Revenge, the quest for power – getting it and maintaining it – is a ubiquitous theme.

Now of course power refers to many things, and Merriam-Webster includes exponents and physics in its complete definition. But the type of power these characters in the popular television shows are seeking is the type of power related to control and influence. And interestingly enough, oftentimes the power that is amassed does not ultimately bring happiness. Devastating sacrifices have been made and the ever-present threat of losing this hard-won power looms overhead.

Based on these shows, it would seem that power and happiness are a contradiction. And I wonder… is this why we’re so fascinated with them? Do we intuitively think that if we have the power to control and influence our circumstances we will be happy? Do we love watching characters that have this power – a power that we can only imagine – suffer in pain from said power’s cost? Do we find a sense of relief when we see that even the powerful are unhappy?

Fortunately for us (and this blog), our happiness is not dependent upon power but on empowerment. Like the term power, empowerment represents many definitions so let me clarify. I’m talking about personal empowerment – the ability to create and maintain a sense of peace and happiness regardless of external circumstances.

A classic character that can represent empowerment is Cinderella. Cinderella’s power comes from within – not her Fairy Godmother. Sure, the Fairy Godmother can work miracles, but Cinderella didn’t need the prince to be happy. She had found happiness (in song and friendly mice) even when she was a servant to her wicked stepmother. Now just because Cinderella has a great sense of self, her personal power cannot prevent bad things from happening to her. Her wicked stepmother can still pull antics and cause upsets. But feelings of frustration and sadness are not a contradiction to a sense of empowerment. Quite the opposite, empowerment is about personal autonomy and sourcing strength, sourcing happiness and sourcing peace. (Perhaps it was Cinderella’s empowerment that created the existence of a Fairy Godmother in the first place!)

Of course, we don’t live in television shows or classic fairy tales. We live in the “real” world. And the real world can be tough. So it’s natural that we would desire power. But we would be wise the heed the themes of television and fairy tales to understand that true power comes not from controlling external circumstances but from personal empowerment – the ability to find our center and our happiness regardless of external conditions.