We need to establish mutually empowering relationships and institutions among two or more people who
· have common understandings or, when common understandings do not exist, have agreements reached by consensus of all parties impacted,
· are life-affirming,
· are loving,
· are just,
· are truthful.
If we strive to act in harmony with the five guidelines immediately above; then, we will be practicing mutual empowerment. If sufficient numbers of us commit to such practice, we will transform our human civilization. If we truly commit through mutual empowering relationships to live by these five guidelines, essentially we know all we need to know. From this knowledge we, with others, can determine our specific actions and behaviors and how to put them into practice.
A couple of examples
At first glance it would seem absurd to think that the just-born infant and the parent can have a mutually empowering relationship. In fact, they can have such a relationship. Each relationship must be seen according to the ages or experiences, conditions, and circumstances of those involved in the relationship. Even at birth, the parent and the child ideally have an understanding about mutual empowerment – the understanding is that the parent will do all that she or he can do to love, to serve the needs of the child and to contribute to the child’s empowerment; and, that the child can safely and securely be dependent upon the parent and happily and safely experiment with assuming greater power. The understanding is communicated and confirmed through the behavior of the parent and the child. That understanding fulfills the parent in knowing that these first days of the child’s life are a special time when extraordinary support and love are appropriate, that this support and love will form the foundation for healthy growth and development of the child as well as for the child joyfully assuming ever greater empowerment and responsibility for her or his life. That understanding confirms for the child that he or she is in a safe world which can be trusted and in which the wonders of life can be happily explored. As time passes and as is necessary, the parent and the child can make agreements to ensure that this mutual empowerment continues. Child and parent both are increasingly empowered.
A brief, initial look at partner relationships provides another example. People who meet any time after childhood and explore intimacy bring a great deal of social learning or, popularly stated, “baggage” to the relationship. This baggage may be constructive or not. The couple may immediately have many shared understandings. And, with increasing experience with each other, the couple may find that understandings they thought were shared, in fact are not. Explicit agreements will almost certainly be necessary to help the partners increase their intimacy in mutually empowering ways. As a mundane example, Pat and Terry may have an agreement that Pat will clean the bathroom when it needs it. Terry, perceiving that the bathroom has needed cleaning for three days might lash out at Pat, calling Pat a “lazy slob” for not cleaning the bathroom. First of all, calling Pat a “lazy slob” is not life-affirming and will not contribute to a mutually empowering relationship. Second, Terry and Pat may genuinely have a different perception of what conditions need to exist to determine that the bathroom needs cleaning. So, Terry has lots of options to pursue: Terry can “chill,” can clean the bathroom, can wait to see when Pat will clean the bathroom if Terry says nothing, can say something like, “I thought you were going to clean the bathroom when it needed it; it seems to me that it needs it; what do you think?” Preferably, Terry will choose an option that is nurturing for Terry. If Terry chooses to clean the bathroom and genuinely feels good about doing that, all will be well. If Terry silently and begrudgingly cleans the bathroom, there will be problems ahead. Regardless of what words are used, if Terry is fundamentally wanting to put Pat down, to make Pat wrong, to humiliate Pat, no words are going to work until those feelings are dealt with by Terry alone or by Terry and Pat together.
Isn’t this taking things a bit too far? Are you really serious that partners need to consider all these and the many other factors that could be involved with such a petty situation as cleaning the bathroom and the hundreds of other like situations in life. I want to live my life freely, lightly, spontaneously – not with a lot of rules.
In the grand scheme of things cleaning the bathroom seems pretty unimportant. And, yes, we want our lives to be light, free, and spontaneous. But, most of us have not gotten to the place where our lives are light, free, and spontaneous. They are filled with situations in which people are unhappy, feel compelled to do things that they do not want to do, feel that they lack the power to do anything about it, and have even become resigned to the “fact” that they can do nothing about it. Let’s get empowered about dealing with bathroom-cleaning-type situations and we will then find that we have newfound power to deal with oppressive work situations, civil rights issues, and these other more substantial situations. Of course, I am not suggesting that we wait to address the oppressive work situation or the civil rights abuse. We can practice applying the mutually empowering approach to those and other substantial situations right now. The only way that we will fully develop the mutually empowering approach is through continued practice in the real world. Such practice can, in fact, be light and fun. Often the first essential steps to take to move towards mutual empowerment is non-judgmentally (1) to state that one is not happy with a specific situation (e.g., a bathroom that is dirtier than one likes or a work situation seems unfair), (2) to ask questions which genuinely seek to understand where the other party or parties are coming from, and (3) to strive to reach an agreement that is mutually acceptable to all parties. If people begin implementing these practices in ever-increasing, small and gradual steps from our individual lives to global affairs, the transformation of our current global civilization will be awe-inspiring, all-inclusive, and nonviolent.