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Did I Empower or Enable the Ant?

Did I Empower or Enable the Ant?
By Jean Harper

“Don't confuse poor decision-making with destiny. Own your mistakes. It’s ok; we all make them. Learn from them so they can empower you!” ― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

Sometimes I just have to laugh at myself. Who do I think I am some kind of super heroine who has the job of saving the world?  I love all of these “lessons” I keep learning…FINALLY!

I have to finally say it out loud; “I was an enabler.” I always thought of myself as a person that empowers others, but I think I have finally learned the difference. It is really hard to know the difference between enabling and empowering. If you look both words up in a dictionary it appears they have the same meaning; however, certainly not the same connotation “enabling” has the same meaning as “empowering.” It means lending a hand to help people accomplish things they could not do by themselves.  If you look at the meaning, you can’t really say one is bad and the other good, can you? 

I have looked hard and long at myself over this new found lesson.  I believe I finally understand that the reason for my behavior is really because, deep inside, I wanted to be loved and I thought I had to do something besides just being “me” to get the love I so wanted. I didn’t realize I was lovable just the way I am.  I have received many hints over the years, but sometimes you just have to be hit over the head before you finally get it. Enablers are a bit selfish if you think about it, why else would you suffer and continue to exacerbate the suffering of someone else? Oh, that may have something to do with co-dependence!  I refuse to attempt that one today.

It took a tiny “ant” to make it finally clear for me!  A tiny, little ant empowered me, but did I empower it?

I was sitting in my chair at the beach this week and I closed my eyes to begin my meditation when I felt a large insect crawling up my arm.  I know I should have been able to move past this creature that was crawling up my arm, but I was not able to do so and brushed it off. I opened my eyes and there was a very large ant on the sand and my brushing made it a bit dizzy as it was going around in circles beside my chair.  I don’t know why I was so captivated by this little creature, but I started feeling a bit sorry for it. Does that mean I was sympathetic? That means trouble!

The story of the ant doesn’t stop there because now I am really connecting with this ant.  I watched the ant come out of the circle and finally start moving in a straight line. As the ant continued in its straight line I realized it was heading toward the water.  Being the “enabler” that I am I said to myself, “I can’t let this ant go much farther as it will get washed out to sea and die!”  I am sure you can guess what I did next; I got up from my chair, picked up a shell (ant life raft) and scooped up the ant.  The ant kept coming out of the life raft shell and trying to crawl up my arm again. I kept scooping it up in the shell until I finally got it to the brush area before setting it down. What did the ant do? It turned around and started back toward the water. After a few times the ant finally gave up and went into the brush. So, I ask, did I enable or empower the ant?  At first I thought that I empowered it to live!  What a heroine I am, I saved the ant to go on and do whatever his tiny self wants!  Then I thought to myself, suppose the ant really wanted to go to the water. Who knows maybe the ant had big dreams of living on an island somewhere else and the only way it could get there was to go into the water and get carried away!  Who am I to interfere with that ant’s dream? 

So now I ask, did I enable or empower the ant?  Before you answer, consider this:

  • Ants have six legs, each with 3 joints
  • They can run very fast and lift 20 times their own body weight
  • Ants use their antennae for touch and for smell
  • Ants have two eyes, each made up of many smaller ones
  • Ants have two stomachs- one for themselves and a second one to share with others!


I am sure you are saying, “Ok, enough with the any story” and I agree, but that little story gave me a lot to think about. The first time I can remember, significant to my lesson of “enabler realization”, is when I traveled for the first time to New York City to visit a good friend who lived there. As we walked the streets of Manhattan we came upon a young man who looked right at me and asked if I had some spare cash as he was hungry. Of course I gave him money and my friend started laughing at me saying “Jean, if you are going to give money to everyone who asks you for it on the streets of New York, you will find yourself broke very soon.” It wasn’t long before I understood what she meant and I now know these people are professionals at getting your money. If I continued to give money to these “pros” I would enable them to continue, right?  No wonder there are so many of them ,as I am sure there are just as many of the “me” types that will give their hard earned money to them.

When I think about the many times in my life that “enabled” me, I realize that recognizing when you are being enabled is important. I recall a time when I was age 11. I came home from school with my report card, and glowing with pride. I handed it to my mother who sat down to look it over. I stood there smiling as I knew I had 5 “As” and 1 “B”!  After she reviewed my report card she looked at me and said, “Why did you get a B?”  At the time I thought it was cruel that she didn’t just say how great it was that I got the 5 As, but now I don’t agree with that thought. She wanted me to be successful and she wanted a better life for me than she had known, therefore she wanted me to try harder and to do my very best. She always encouraged me, told me I was special, and she would whisper, “You’re my favorite” which I am sure she said to the others. I know she wanted the best for me and there were many more times where she refused to enable me to be lazy or irresponsible. Maybe she enabled me to be successful,l but I think she rather empowered me. I know she enabled my father, but that is an entirely new topic for another day.

In summary, I just want to say that I realize that “enablers” don’t mean to do harm; just the opposite.  Enablers suffer greatly by putting others ahead of themselves, but the reasons are not pretty. It is sad to think that I spent most of my life not loving myself, but I won’t “enable” me to continue with that self-destructive behavior. I know clearly now, that the greatest love of all resides inside of me now. I am not afraid any longer because I have found that I am pretty awesome just the way I am and that I can have and deserve love. 

Are you an enabler or someone who empowers? No one can enable you to know. When you know, you just know. I now view “enablers” as a bit arrogant, despite the kindness with which it is delivered. I will remember for the rest of my life, the day I took away the little ant’s chance to go to an island. I will watch my actions closely to make sure I am not stalling the inevitable for another. I will know the difference.

“You wanna fly; you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”
― Toni Morrison



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