We Can’t Save People, We Can Only Empower Them

save yourself

Not too long ago, I began doing a daily devotional. This is a time I set aside each morning to get and keep my spiritual house in order. There are many types of devotionals used primarily by religious people. My spiritual time is non-religious. It involves the following components:

  1. Giving thanks
  2. Reading and reflecting on a daily affirmation or other reading
  3. Writing down what I learned and developing an action plan to implement it
  4. Asking for certain blessings, guidance or protection for myself and loved ones

While doing my devotional this morning, I came across the affirmation, “We are not superheroes.” It begins this way:

I cannot save the world.

I cannot save anyone.

I can love. I can support. I can empower. But it is not my responsibility to save.

The article went on to explain that we can give others advice, listen to them, reassure them, and teach them empowering skills, knowledge or habits. The responsibility of “salvation” however, falls on each individual, and on them alone.

Passionately attempting to do something that is literally impossible (saving others) has predictably negative outcomes for those operating as “saviors.” When they don’t see the results they expect from the child, lover, friend, or group they’re attempting to “save,” they risk  becoming bitter, drained, arrogant, resentful, and to feel deeply unappreciated.

But the savior approach also harms those we attempt to “save.” They tire of our constant (and increasingly frustrated or angry) pleading. They can begin feeling demoralized (“I’ll never get it right,” “Nothing I do is good enough”). They can become resentful (“I wish he would mind his business,” “She must think she’s PERFECT!”). They not only deafen their ears to the “savior,” they can become so frustrated and rebellious that they exhibit worse thinking and behavior than they did before! Finally, we rob them of the choice and power they have to save themselves.

Therefore, I agree with the affirmation. We are not superheroes or saviors. To believe we are is both impractical and arrogant. Are there people we love or work with who live in deep dysfunction? Yes. Do some of these people participate in a seemingly never-ending cycle of misery, failure, and pain? For sure. Do we tire of hearing their complaints and frustrations, when they refuse to do the things they need to improve their situation? No doubt. But these are situations they CHOOSE FOR THEMSELVES. These frustrating and toxic situations will continue as they continue to deny them or enable them.

Our goal is simply to provide the tools (knowledge, wisdom, skills, habits) to help them make better choices, readjust themselves, develop confidence, and thus be their own agents of salvation. If we do this in a loving and patient spirit, we can help them become successful.

I understand and implement this lesson pretty well in my personas of parent, educator and activist, but sometimes fall short in other areas of my personal life. I/we don’t want to come off to others as arrogant and impatient taskmasters, do we?

In conclusion, I’ve developed a few tips I think might be helpful to many of you reading this article (especially when it comes to friends, our (adult) children, love-interests, co-workers, etc. :

  • Don’t get into the practice of giving unsolicited advice.
  • When asked, patiently offer your perspective, with the objective of empowering, not “saving” them.
  • Remind the person that his/her life is theirs to live and only they have the power to change it or make it more fulfilling.
  • Remember that a person has the right to ignore, disagree with or reject your perspectives.  If they choose to be in denial or continue to  enable their problems, that is their choice and they have to live with those outcomes.
  • When you’ve already attempted to empower them, they neglect or refuse to the tools you’ve shared, and they complain about the same problems, listen to them without interjecting, and calmly remind them, “Seems like you have some choices to make, and I’m sure you’ll choose well.”
  • Remember that just as they have the right to choose, you do as well. You can change the topic, or politely remove yourself from the conversation.
  • If the person is someone with whom you live or someone whose choices negatively affect YOU, reconsider if this is a relationship you want. You are responsible for your own happiness, and to SAVE YOURSELF you might need to disconnect from this person permanently or until they prove mature enough to make better choices. You have the right to be affected by empowering choices, and to shield yourself from the toxic behavior/decisions of others.
  • Make sure you are open to good advice and constantly working on SELF-EMPOWERMENT or you are not qualified empower others!
  • If the person is open to empowering ideas/tools, and they do make positive changes that are noticeable to you, mention it to them! We all need support, and sincere words of congratulations or acknowledgement are POWERFUL tools.

Further Reading

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Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and protest. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

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2 thoughts on “We Can’t Save People, We Can Only Empower Them

  1. Thanks for finding meaning in my words and incorporating them into such a beautiful and well stated article! Love the line, “Seems like you have some choices to make, and I’m sure you’ll choose well.” Very useful tool!

    • Thank you for your relevant and useful blog! 365affirmations is one of the main sources of affirmations for my daily devotional, and I’m most appreciative….

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