Self-Esteem Building: The Poor’s Perception of Powerlessness

Power as a neutral term refers to a capability by a person or a group to influence people to take immediate action on a given action point. There are clichés about power but this article is not about those clichés. Surely you must have heard these often repeated words: the power of money…the power of knowing people with influence….the power of women….the power of political machinery. the power of physical strength…the power Pof love ….the list goes on. The power that I’d like to say something about is the power that the poor have within themselves contrary to the poor’s own perception of themselves as powerless. Why the poor, especially the unorganized poor, have almost forgotten about power as innate in each person is because in the daily grind of things the words that keep recurring in their life like a mantra are the words “money”, “money” and “money”. And their reality is: “ no money”. “no money.” “no money.” Society has forgotten that life is not just the material world and that the indicator of power is not just about money.

There are different sources of power. These could be: inner knowing, wisdom, skills, values, attitudes, habits, intelligence, physical strength, physical beauty, a big number of warm bodies presenting an agenda, accurate information, statistics, the information technology….the list goes on. But poverty buries people’s concept of that power within themselves through a systemic daily conditioning work. The conditioning machine works twenty-four hours a day to get the message across people’s perceptions until the perceptions are translated into beliefs. What’s the message that flows across all channels of conditioning? Maintain the prevailing power arrangements in society. Let the poor stay poor or poorer. The conditioning machine has a multiplier effect and before we know it we are continuously walking around a sea of physical poverty that siphons into the psyche whatever symbols physical poverty brings with it. Our TV shows are the greatest conditioning machine at the moment.
So, instead of a society where people draw power from within themselves, everyday, what we see is a society that consciously or unconsciously contributes to the creation of powerlessness. We are littered with symbols of powerlessness – alcoholism, drugs, gang wars, commercialization of sex, corruption in public office, homelessness, polluted rivers, broken relationships, children sniffing solvents, beggars on the streets…..we can go on and on.

There is a problem in the way society defines power. The original nature of power is not control over people or things. It was power from within so that people could be in solidarity with other people.But all of us know, of course, that there has been a long history of the gap between life as it should be and life as It is. In any country’s history, it has always been a story of how those at the bottom of the prevailing power structure challenged the status quo. Time and time again, the status quo has been an oppressive set of systems. The struggle for independence of any country whether in ancient times or at present, bears witness to the fact that people in poverty, together with enlightened people from the middle and upper-income bracket, are the ones who rock the boat vigorously until the boat gets rebuilt. The fight for a fair sharing of power in society never ends.

Without an organized consciousness raising process, the poor tend to believe that it is not within their scheme of things to change the way things are. Until they join a group who eventually succeeds in getting an authority figure sit down at a negotiating table with them do they realize that they have an untapped force within themselves. To learn that the poor have power, the poor have to experience negotiating from a position of power. Even the mutual gains approach which is also called principled negotiation assumes that the negotiating parties are both negotiating from a position of power so that each are starting from a position of respect. The power to be able to assert one’s rights as a citizen has to be experienced by the poor for them to be able to reclaim the belief that power is a birthright. But before people can stand up to be able to tell themselves that they have power within themselves, they should first experience that inner power through a collective experience of victory.