Writing Empowerments: Ink from Ochre Extract


Ong argues that writing can “enrich the human psyche, enlarge the human spirit, intensify its interior life.” [1]  In other words writing can be moulded to fit those who use it, and can extend rather than diminish subjectivity and intersubjectivity.   Max Van Manen describes the power of writing:

Writing fixes thoughts on paper.  It externalises what in some senses is internal; it distances us from our immediate lived involvements with the things of our world.  As we stare at the paper, and stare at what we have written, our objectified thinking now stares back at us.  This writing creates the reflective cognitive stance …[2]

Writing has a paradoxical power that comes from its ability to objectify as ideas are placed onto paper, yet as it objectifies it subjectifies.  It can do this because writing can represent a dialogue with the self.   Even though many Indigenous women write in collaboration with others, dialogues with the self have some importance.  As Lisa Bellear, a Noonucaal writer and broadcaster, who has experienced violence and abuse at some points during her life, argues:

Each one of us is aware of how colonisation has and is still impacting on our lives.  All of us know what it is to hurt inside.  What is required is to find an effective way through which we can face our traumas . . . Poetry is only one form . . . it is through writing and broadcasting I have a release for my emotions.[3]

Writing itself alone does not achieve transformation, release or healing.   Its potential to transform comes from the “gifts” the writer has and brings to the process of what they put on the page.

Stephen Covey argues that there are four major human “gifts” — self-awareness, conscience, imagination and independent will — which empower individuals.  These gifts enable people to choose how they will respond to any given circumstance in their lives.  He defines self-awareness as the ability to step back from life to observe oneself (including thoughts).  Conscience gives moral sense and moral power.  Imagination is the ability to  “envision something entirely different from  . . . past experience.”[4]  Independent will is the power to take action.

A fifth vital “gift”’ in Covey’s discussion is that of humour, as it has the capacity to combine all of the gifts, to bring great self-awareness so people can think about what is really important in their lives.  Laughter releases tension and “is an alternative to guilt tripping” (p.34). True humour is “light heartedness” not “light mindedness.”  Empowerment is being aware of these gifts and being able to mobilise them in everyday life.  Covey argues that to be proactive people need to develop all these human “gifts” to achieve synergy in interpersonal communications.

Covey uses circle imagery to explore intersubjective empowerment.

The Circle of Concern is a large circle that embraces everything in your life that you may be concerned about.  The Circle of Influence is a smaller circle within the Circle of Concern that embraces the things you can actually do something about. (p.41)

He explains that the tendency is to focus on the Circle of Concern, causing the inner Circle of Influence to be diminished.  Proactive people focus their energies on the Circle of Influence and expand it, rather than diminishing energy (p.41) by focusing on their own Circle of Concern.   Covey maintains that proactive people know when to tell the difference between these two circles.  In his model the major Circle of Influence is self and maybe one’s own family because, even in a single family, one’s influence might come from first effecting a change in oneself.  Change in the community then comes from changes within the individual and family networks.  Action becomes connected to spiritual principles rather than based on emotion.  Love is something we do, not just something we feel.

“Proactive people focus on their Circle of Influence. As a result that circle increases.”(p.41)

He explains that as the circle of influence is strengthened, people become more influential in the world.  This study contends that writing can be a powerful tool in extending a person’s circle of influence, as authors publish their stories, readers engage with their thoughts, across time, and place. What began, as an individual’s story can become a story that becomes part of the reader as well.

Publishing, however, brings with it new challenges and can also produce new forms of writing, intended less for the self, and more for the public, although these lines are sometimes hard to see.  One weakness of Covey’s model is that he does not adequately take into account that some people have more opportunities than others to consolidate and expand the circle of influence.

[1] Ong, Orality and Literacy  p.82.

[2] Van Manen, p.125.

[3] Lisa Bellear, “Healing through Poetry,” in The Strength of Us as Women: Black Women Speak p.70.

[4] I use a popular self- help writer, along side my other theorists, because his model is very useful.Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families (St Leonards: Allen and Unwin, 1997), p. 31. All subsequent references incorporated into the body of the text.

An Extract from my PhD Thesis, Distilling Ink from Ochre, Empowerments of Indigenous Women Through Writing(2004)

I will be doing some updated reading, but it is interesting revisiting this document and thinking about how it may play a role in my writing of fiction and life story.  I’ll also be extracting journals and other pieces to see what treasures might lie therein.

(c) June Perkins


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