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Empowerment

You can't have it both ways. You can't grumble because you don't have freedom and grumble because you don't have support at the same time. Every choice in one area is going to affect you (and others) in other areas. The group may allow you certain freedoms; but you must also allow the group certain freedoms. And this is pretty much the picture of the human family around the world. Immature individuals want all the freedoms for themselves, without due consideration for the freedoms needed by others, and the responsibilities that each freedom puts upon us. It is this unwillingness to take responsibility for our decisions that causes most of the problems that we so often term "lack of freedom". Lack of freedom is a state of mind, caused by our own unwillingness to take advantage of the opportunities that exist right under our noses.

We have noted over the years how consistently people accuse us of whatever it is that they themselves are guilty of. Mostly we have applied this to critics addressing us from outside of our community. If their problem is sex, then they imagine that we are a sex cult. If their problem is greed, then they imagine that we are a moneymaking racket. If their problem is power, then they imagine that we are out to control people's lives.

I am surprised at how many of our people have viewed empowerment as a 'trick'. I think that members who are not entirely honest about their own desires and goals are the ones most likely to assume that I am not being entirely honest about offering them freedom to choose whatever they want to do.

I am thinking of a friend who has done a lot to help us over the years. However, he has also been careful to plan his contributions in such a way as to maximise his own savings while with us. He cannot technically work for money; but he can continue to collect welfare cheques while eating our food and availing himself of our accommodation. We don't mind, because he has been a very good worker while he has been with us. On the whole, we both benefit. Nevertheless, because he thinks like that, he assumes that we are doing the same, and so he sees me as a writer who is conning a lot of people into going out there and promoting me for free. He doesn't think I am particularly greedy or anything like that, but he does think that I have found a clever way of achieving a slightly selfish end. In other words, he sees himself in me.

Now I want you to see that members in the community can make the same mistake. On the whole, I think that you are all even more committed than this good friend. But if you are inclined to look for ways that you can escape spiritual responsibility, and to use group rules to your own advantage, then you are likely to think that I am using the empowerment concepts selfishly as well.

Empowerment simply means sitting down with a pen and paper and listing what it is that you want to achieve, and how you can best go about doing it. I do all that I can during these sessions to get people to be honest about it and not to write what they think I (or others) want to hear. But peer group pressure is so powerful.

Some of you, for example, genuinely believe that spending five hours a day distributing tracts will help you achieve one of your goals for this year (i.e. preaching the gospel). That's great. But others don't really have a vision for that. Nevertheless, they write the same thing on their paper (i.e. that they want to distribute tracts five hours a day) because they are afraid to say (or perhaps to even think about) what their real goal is. And, of course, when the session is finished, these people do not feel any more enthused about what they have supposedly chosen to do than what they felt before it started.

These people tend to see the exercise as a trick to get them to say what they really want; and they imagine that they will be punished for it if they do. So they do not get the opportunity to benefit from the experiment. Well, if what they really want is to plunder and rape, then they probably will be kicked out of the community if they start doing that. But the whole program is based on my own honest conviction that basically, you are all in this community because you want to serve God.

The way that the community (and, indirectly, the leadership) benefits from the empowerment exercise is that people who stop doing things just because of peer group pressure will generally be more productive when they start doing what it is that they really want to do. They may even come up with something innovative that others will respond to enthusiastically. Of course it's even more likely that some of you will experiment with a few things that you thought would be fun to do (or more effective), and then you will come back to at least some of the 'old ways' with a little more conviction about their effectiveness.

[You each have personal hobbies, interests, and fancies, which we also included in the empowerment exercise. We said, for example, that if you like to go swimming, (and also want to overcome a bad temper), then you should give yourself a reward of a swimming session if you can, say, go for three days without blowing up.]

The people who have left our community over the past few years represent a form of empowerment. They all pretty much got fed up with distributing and sending funds to India. So they experimented with things like free work, faith walks, child care, and medicine. Unfortunately, in their case, they have developed a lot of bitterness against us in general and me in particular. But I am still hopeful that over time they will work out what it is that they really want to do, and if their overriding desire is to please God, then they will be more productive for God as a result of having the courage to experiment. They will succeed in what they have chosen to do, or they will keep trying other things until they do find something that helps them to achieve what it is that they really want to do. The empowerment concept is just saying that you don't have to be bitter or to rebel against everyone else in order to grow as an individual. We are trying, as much as possible, to give people freedom to experiment within the community.

It's up to you. You have the power, if you'll just use it.

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