At sixteen, I knew I didn’t have it all figured out. (And nearing 19 I still definitely don’t have it all figured out). I wasn’t arrogant enough to believe that I had all the answers just because I started You Me We Empower. In fact, I have always been an eager learner, always ready to find out more, especially about the social justice world. But, I wasn’t humble either. I thought I had some of it down and that some of it was my theory behind empowerment. Although back then I never would have considered calling it a “theory”–in my mind it was fact not theory. I founded You Me We Empower–both the organization and the blog–under the assumption that I could empower others through both humanitarian work and my writing. If there are any fellow Thinking Beyond Borders alums out there, you’re probably shaking your head because, well, that is somewhat problematic thinking. My reasons for why this is problematic will hopefully become clear in this and future posts.
Let me start with India Seminar Two “Does education oppress or liberate?” on my global gap year with Thinking Beyond Borders (TBB). Program Leader, social justice guru, friend, and mentor Stacey led this seminar. About thirty minutes into the discussion she dropped a metaphorical bomb on my somewhat literal “empowerment junkie” identity. Stacey explained a popular definition of the word “empower.” In short, a person cannot empower another person because this would be invoking an oppressive power dynamic. It would look like giving a hand out rather than a hand up and in reality would not last. So instead, a person can only empower oneself. The moment this clicked, the moment I realized I too agreed with this definition was a moment of deep rooted confusion. When the seminar ended, I was left with my arms flailing, screaming “This can’t be over! Someone, anyone, Stacey, please, answer my questions! I don’t know where to go from here!” Had the past two years of my life been spent perpetuating oppression? Was I hindering not helping the issue? And what about all the organizations I supported? Were their values aligned with my new ones?
I was exhilarated. I may have been at a low point personally, but I had never felt more academically challenged. The seminars that followed continued to confound me. I asked more and more questions and quickly started facilitating my own conversations beyond seminar to satisfy my overflowing love for liberation theory and Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Months later, I am still asking questions and practicing the love and humility born from this original pursuit for liberation.
Pedagogy of the Oppressed is truly at the crux of my shift. Sitting here now, I am not sure how to define what I shifted away from, but I do know what I shifted towards: wholeness, humanness, humility, understanding, love. I cannot untangle every story or theory which led me to where I am today in a single blog post. Or even in a single series of blog posts. Maybe that is what the future is for–untangling the stories we have lived and are living. Consider this the first installment of The Lioness and the Wild Wolf origin stories. I cannot promise a regular schedule, but I can promise a full-hearted process. In the near future, you can expect explanations of The Three Pillars: Love & Community, Challenging Assumptions, and Looking Inward, and of the meaning behind my practice and this blog’s tagline, Social Justice Through a Lens of Love, and also of the meaning behind the new name, The Lioness and the Wild Wolf.
Until then, I will leave you with this: