The world lost a great story-teller and role-model this week, when Maya Angelou died. At age 86, she still inspired folks with her optimistic and philosophical writings and recordings. Her life wasn’t always easy, having experienced racial discrimination, sexual abuse and poverty in her early years. She elected to retreat from life and its pain for many years, but upon years of reflection and self-healing, she found renewed strength and optimism for living.
She credits her grandmother with teaching her about determination, optimism and courage. Maya is quoted as having said,
” You’ll never hear me complain. I will protest, but I will not complain… Bitterness is like cancer. It eats up the host.”
And therein lies a unique lesson about personal power.
What is the difference between protesting and complaining? At the core, one comes from a place of personal empowerment, while the other comes from a place of powerlessness. When we feel empowered, we have respect for ourselves and others. Our confidence is evident, but not overbearing or aggressive. We speak our truth clearly, yet allow others to speak theirs without feeling defensive or superior towards them. We can be curious, gracious, courageous, successful and engaged with the world for we understand both our uniqueness and sameness in the “grand scheme of things”. We set healthy boundaries in our relationships with others. We understand and respect that everyone has their strengths and challenges and that although we can be supportive of their journey, we can’t learn their life lessons for them. That is their job.
Being empowered does not mean being aggressive, controlling or punitive. These are unhealthy ways of expressing personal power. There is no respect or regard for well-being in this dynamic. Yet, when we talk about empowerment, many people automatically think it means to be aggressive or bossy. It does not.
When we experience powerlessness in our life, we become victimized by external events and relationships. Somehow, we give up our voice and choice in matters pertaining to our lives. Instead, we look to others to lead us and do for us. We give responsibility for our choices and directions to others. This powerlessness is usually evident in people with dependent and passive traits and behaviour. It can be a learned way of being or may develop over time if stresses have been overwhelming. But to give up one’s inner power is huge. Where is the confidence, self-respect, responsibility, courage and success so necessary for a happy and healthy life?
What is interesting to note, is that people who exhibit passive or dependent behaviour are just as controlling as those who are abusive and aggressive. They try getting their way and needs met, but in a more indirect manner. These folks may not realize it, but their attitudes and behaviour keep others on tender hooks as they try to help, nurture and protect them. And generally, whatever is done, is not good enough. Resentment, bitterness and anger tend to build up in both parties. Respect dwindles over time. As you can imagine, the sense of powerlessness in the first person can now become a feature in the helper. Unless the internal and external dynamics change, the cycle continues to grow.
If Maya Angelou was able to find her way out of poverty, discrimination and abuse by connecting to her Inner Power, and then become an enthusiastic, respected, powerful role model of loving kindness and courage, then there is hope for all of us!
Article written by Pat Antoniak Registered Nurse – Registered Aromatherapist
and owner of the Natural Comfort Wellness Centre in Tsawwassen, BC.