The Story of Empowerment

Girls perform a dance from the South African hit production Sarafina!, which is about the 1976 Soweto school uprising, in Soshanguve Township; the children are part of a program run by the Leseding Support Centre, which provides services to orphans and others in the community [© Eric Miller/Panos Pictures/Uniphoto Press]

Empowerment is a concept that is central to the vision of the SGI Quarterly. That is to say, it is the intention of the editorial team for each issue to, in some small way, inspire hope in readers that the challenges we confront as a global society can be overcome and, at the same time, help encourage or invigorate individual action toward that end. The idea of an issue that focused specifically on empowerment therefore seemed a natural choice.

What quickly becomes apparent when one begins to examine the idea of empowerment is how ubiquitous the term is. As one contributor notes, empowerment has come to mean anything that is done with the intention of helping others. This vagueness can make it difficult to gauge the real effects of efforts to empower individuals or communities. Having a clearer idea of what constitutes empowerment enables those seeking to empower others to be more effective.

Empowerment is more than help and good intentions or feeling positive. It includes these elements, but goes beyond them and, in broadest terms, could be described as an internal or psychological shift that results in an actual positive change in one's circumstances.

Moving away from the definition of empowerment, what one observes is that empowerment seems to beget empowerment; when people become empowered, they open the path of empowerment for others. The writings of Nichiren, the founder of the school of Buddhism practiced by members of the SGI, contain a useful analogy in this regard: "The situation is like the joints in a piece of bamboo: if one joint is ruptured, then all the joints will split." Another characteristic of empowerment, along the same lines, is that it is deeply inspiring. The knowledge of someone breaking through obstacles and unfolding new aspects of their potential creates a deep resonance in the human spirit, in the lives of others. For this reason, narratives of empowerment are vital for our world. They help catalyze the chain reaction of empowerment that needs so urgently to be accelerated.

It is in that sense, then, that we hope you will find this issue of the SGI Quarterly, and all others, both inspiring and empowering.