“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”
~ Edith Wharton
Power is a weighty word. For a variety of reasons, including having witnessed abuse of power within their families, neighborhoods or school communities, many people with stronger feminine, or yin energy (independent of gender), are intimidated by the concept. The empathic never want to risk causing harm; they want to sit alongside others, not rule over them.
Nature’s Super Blood Red Blue Moon Eclipse provided a reminder that society can shift thinking by clearly defining “power” in a transformative way: the ability to match resources to unmet needs and remedy inequities. Like when the sun, moon and earth align, applying power to create balance recalibrates towards equity.
How do we support youth in remaining true to themselves? There are times the moon lights the sky and other times the sun. Nature has a balanced cycle. The same has not always held true in our schools and communities. The highly sensitive can be adept at picking up social cues and can inadvertently become “pleasers,” veiling their true selves to gain social acceptance. In reality, dimming the yin light upsets both the yin and the yang.
Here are a few practices to support the yin in rising to balance with the yang, the moon with the sun and feminine with the masculine:
- Supersize the Lunar Confidence Please!
There is an unfortunate discrepancy in confidence levels among genders. Kay and Shipman share, “Evidence shows that women are less self-assured than men – and that to succeed, confidence matters as much as competence.” [i] Fortunately, we can boost confidence.
Imposter syndrome, a psychological phenomenon in which individuals struggle to internalize accomplishments despite evidence of competence, erodes confidence. Ask students who feel like frauds, “What would an expert do in this situation?” Support in identifying the skills requisite to achieve the desired outcome. Share examples of past achievements and evidence of aptitude to narrow the distance between inaccurate self-perceptions and reality. Participating in sports and extra-curriculars can also enhance confidence; introduce students to a variety of activities until they find one that fits.
- Leave Yesterday’s Perceptual Reality in the Rear View Mirror
The Heidi / Howard experiment detailed in Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg reveals:
“When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less. This truth is both shocking and unsurprising: shocking because no one would ever admit to stereotyping on the basis of gender and unsurprising because clearly we do.“[ii]
Educate about biases and explore equitable solutions such as providing specific, measurable examples of what constitutes excellent performance. Transparency and direct communication practices help prevent abuse of power. We can model for youth how to be inclusive by refusing to listen to gossip and practicing perspective taking. If someone is being excluded or disparaged, invite them to the conversation table. If an individual refuses to engage in dialogue or continues injurious behavior, explain it may be healthy to take some time away. Empower the yin to say “Stop!” to the yang when it is the moon’s turn to shine. And in fewer contexts, the reverse.
- Integrate Feminine and Masculine Practices
The sun’s rays are not better than the moon’s reflection, they are simply different. Both are needed to balance.
When working to create equilibrium in communities, I will frequently ask a group to name female leaders who inspire them. The subsequent silence leads one to believe this is a deeply challenging question. Sometimes a few reply with names of famous women – Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga, maybe Amelia Earhart, Maya Angelou or Elizabeth Warren. NEVER has anyone named one of the extraordinary women sitting beside them. I wonder sadly, “Why?” Is it because feminine leaders are still assimilating to familiar, hierarchal leadership models? Are we afraid if we celebrate a female colleague there may not be room for us at the top? Does there have to be a top? In my work with empathic students, I have found that in the absence of adult influence they intuitively embrace collaborative leadership structures.
A New Zen Norm
Equity champion, Paulo Freire, sagely states, “The oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors.”[iii] One of the greatest opportunities on the horizon for our youth is to end the cycle of oppression. A key to this puzzle is developing more responsive and dynamic organizational structures with reduced power distance. Leadership is a culturally defined construct. The yin feminine energy invites society to better align resources with needs.
[i] Kay, Katty and Shimpan, Claire. (2014, May). The Confidence Gap. The Atlantic. Retreived from
[ii] Sandberg, Sheryl. (2013). Lean In: Women, Work and The Will to Lead. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
[iii] Freire, Paulo. (2000). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.