The real reason behind “empowering”

If you work using the internet, you surely hear that word hundreds of times every day: 


At first glance, it looks just a tad exotic/”hypey” – the kind of jargon a young startupper would use, trying to look better with a “fresh lexicon”.

But, looking up close, there’s a lot of surprises to be found.

Why “empower”?

“Empowering” is usually used to define something that gives us more possibilities. For instance: “Empower XYZ to do better”. But, here’s the problem: why “power”? Outcomes are not achieved through power: outcomes are achieved through competence – which sits at the opposite of power.

Why “power” instead of “competence”?

The focus on power instead of competence stems from a Machiavellian conception of society: your way of achieving goals is through power, not competence. You open doors by smashing them (forcing your way onto people), not with a key (fixing problems through competence, hence being welcomed so as to be helpful).

If you want to know more about this way of seeing the world, here’s a good start:

P.s. Take what he says with a grain of salt: just like many others, he’s got underlying agendas of relativistic nature (as in: he’s feeding personal interests, very likely to be noxious for other people).

What would be a better system?

A better system would be one that doesn’t focus on power, but on competence/merit. So, ditching this whole tribal mindset of “Empowering X to do Y”, and thinking about how to solve practical problems: shifting the focus from people, who unequivocally leads to tribalism, to problems, who leads to societal improvement.

Here’s an example:

Power logic

“New solution to empower *people* to *action*

Competence logic

“*potential solution* might be a good solution for *problem*”

The latter is also a great productive talk starter: it explains what somebody else came up with, so as to evaluate said solution, and can start discussions about how legit is this offered solution.

Is everyone aware of this, and use this word with “ill intent”?


Most people act merely mirroring what others do. So, albeit they might say/do something bad, it is not to be given for assumed they really mean it – albeit its outcomes will be just as harmful.

On a very very very broad guesswork, I’d give it a 50%-50%: half are just copying, the other half knows what they’re doing.

Why that picture above?

That’s power at work: forcing people to abide by your rules, whether they like it or not.