‘If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you’ve come because your liberation is bound up in mine, then let us work together.’ Lilla Watson and Aboriginal Activists Group, Queensland
What do you think of that idea?
Personally I’d like to see it used as the guiding principle for anyone who feels called to coach, mentor, and/or support, motivate, empower, inspire, or facilitate healing for other people.
It takes you immediately from a hierarchical basis for your relationship, where one person is superior to the other in some way, to recognising that human evolution and liberation is bound together in a web of complex interrelations. Or, an a more pragmatic level, it reminds you that when you teach, you learn and when you learn, you teach.
The other quote I’d love everyone to post in plain sight so they might be reminded of it daily, is this by Audre Lorde; ‘I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.’
When you take these two quotes together, you start to understand the notion of empowerment differently to some of the so-called ‘guru’ models you see in the personal empowerment space.
You see that empowerment isn’t about one wise and all-knowing teacher bestowing their wisdom upon you and receiving your undying and unquestioning devotion.
Instead, you understand it as a process of mutual upliftment.
In that spirit, I want to share a couple of videos with you today by Noor Tagouri.
(Thank you to the lovely Jane Walters – financial coach, mama, and lovely member of our community – for bringing this amazing woman to my attention.)
Noor is a Libyan American journalist who has produced a podcast on sex trafficking in the US ‘Sold in America’ and a documentary about the mistreatment of people with mental disabilities.
Here are a few snippets from the videos:
‘People love to write your narrative for you.’
‘If you’re part of a marginalised group… you have to constantly fight every day to reclaim your narrative, to take back your story.’
“When you bring me in because you tell me that you want to listen to my voice and then you write my story for me and silence me, then I’m not cool with that.’
Women as a broad collective will be familiar with Noor’s experience. Women with intersecting experiences of marginalisation – whether due to race, physical or mental ability, sexuality, or class – will, I hope, feel inspired by Noor’s videos and the way she speaks up and uses her platform to bring this to people’s attention.
And because the topic du jour is supporting and empowering other women, I want to encourage you today to consider where you may previously have been blind to your own role in another person’s erasure.
If you’ve ever experienced any level of social or economic privilege – whether you’re ably bodied, or white, heterosexual, or you grew up in an economically comfortable environment – then it’s inevitable that your capacity to see and hear other people’s experiences has been diminished.
This is hugely important because in order to work with women in a mutually uplifting way, you have to see them and you have to hear them.
Presuming you know their story or understand what matters to them, or just including them in your events in order to tick a box, is not empowering.
Experiences of privilege mean you haven’t had to see or think about other people’s perspectives or expectations as you’ve been navigating your way through the world. It means you’ve had the experience of living in a world which defines itself by at least one aspect of your identity.
And as those privileged aspects of yourself have been reinforced over and over and over again, other people have had aspects of themselves undermined, marginalised, dismissed, erased over and over and over again.
In all likelihood, you’ve been having both experiences simultaneously. Some aspects of yourself have been reinforced while others have been undermined.
The social conditioning around who and what we see and value (and who and what we don’t) is very strong. That’s why it’s so important to create circuit breakers in the conditioning. To deliberately disrupt the pattern.
I hope you’ll take the time to watch Noor’s IG videos.
It’ll support you to become a better coach, mentor, teacher, healer, motivational speaker, writer, and/or therapist. Because choosing to walk alongside your community (listening closely in order to understand their challenges and their experiences), rather than in front of them, aware only of your own story, is the difference between a teacher who empowers others and one who creates a herd of dependant followers.
When your liberation is bound up with one another, I know which one I’d prefer.