I received this poem many years ago. At that time and to this present moment, I believe these words encompass several meanings and indeed convey a powerful message. Although this poem was directed at women, it is a message that could apply to men equally.
During my working years in the corporate world, some of the managers and executives I reported to – both men and women – could have learned important lessons from these words. It was not only in my work that these words could have been put to use, leaders and people today could also learn some valuable lessons from this poem.
A key message that I see in these words is the distinction that exists between control and responsibility. Taking responsibility for one’s life is generally considered to equate to taking and exercising control in order to: succeed, to achieve, gain respect and recognition, acceptance, self-worth, etc. - but we actually have it wrong.
It is believed that we need to be in control in order for our lives to be ‘perfect’. We assume that by being in control and wanting this ‘perfect’ life is in itself the right thing, that is constitutes taking responsibility. This belief however is what gives rise to our many issues and challenges we face in society. This poem clearly demonstrates that it is by taking responsibility - in the true sense of the word - and not controlling your life that differentiates a strong woman from a woman of strength – as I show by the lines I dissect below of the poem.
The needs of “A strong woman ...” reflect the control she needs to exercise to prove her self-worth, her being-ness, her identity.
The actions of “A woman of strength...” on the other hand reflect the effects of her taking responsibility to being herself, know who and what she is (no needs to prove herself) and ultimately, manifesting her true Self.
Some behavioural characteristics displayed by people that need to exercise control in their life are:
self-righteousness, intolerance, arrogance, self-centredness
strive to command respect whether or not they are deserving
everything is about “me-ism”; it is “my way or no way”; about self-entitlements
an unwillingness to be wrong
will not permit themselves to show vulnerability; will not allow themselves to love unconditionally
live in fear of being wrong and rejected
will likely be the destructive element in relationships
are dependent on external elements and things to identify with and prove who and/or what they are
... other such self-serving and self-protective traits.
Conversely, people that take and accept responsibility demonstrate:
consideration of others
humbleness, gratefulness, tolerance
the willingness to be wrong
acceptance that they do not know everything
the willingness to be vulnerable (real strength) and welcome help and guidance
caring for others and share of themselves openly
that they have no need to be better than or equal to anyone else because they know who and what they are – have the confidence, worth, caring and love of Self
having no fear rejection
no need to prove themselves
no dependency on anything outside themselves to be who and/or what they are
The need for control is driven by fear which does not allow for real unconditional acceptance of Self or anyone. Control is the source of discrimination and inequality – as experienced by most women all over the world.
Responsibility on the other hand has no basis of fear; it is the “eliminator” of the need for control.
When a person operates out of the need to control, they become dependent on circumstances around them for their wellbeing and to define who or what they are. This leads them to create expectations of themselves and everything else around them. And if, or when, their expectations are not met or satisfied, they will resort to blaming others or situations which, in their opinion and belief, have been responsible for them not being ok with themselves. People in control also become self-righteous and this does not allow them to stop and question, or consider, why they find it necessary to be in control. People in control also (erroneously) believe they are taking responsibility for their life when, instead, they are being self-destructive.
In patriarchal cultures, men decided they are the “chosen” to be in control, and be leaders of their people, and they have ruled with fear and force both for public rule and family beliefs. It is for this that I say that the message in this poem applies equally to men.
That however does not exclude the contributing role played by women in not taking responsibility for their role in life by standing up to men to be considered and treated as equal - here I am not referring to the present day endeavours by women in claiming equality. Something men ought to have taken responsibility about to ensure that women are considered and treated with the respect they deserve as unconditionally equal Beings.
My late father was what you could call a man’s man; a hard working man; the head of our family; he was in control. Yet he exercised the greatest level respect to everyone which in turn earned him everyone else’s respect. During my teens I recall him saying, “the woman of the house constitutes the three corners (pillars) of the house; the man only one.” That didn’t make a lot of sense to me at the time seeing how he was the head of our family. But today I have come to understand much about his statement.
There are events and/or situations that take place today that often make me wonder whether women truly grasp and appreciate the fundamentality of what they truly are in life; how they are the essentiality for procreation, care givers, and nourishers for life; that without them there can be no physical existence. Women are so much more than being recognised as equal to men “in the boardroom” (so to speak). Their role as Woman is by far so much greater than a Man for without woman there would be no Mankind. Many of these points apply equally to Man, of course, because without him there would also be no procreation, no humanity.
The essentialness therefore for both men and women to acknowledge and respect one another as equal is something that is long overdue and perhaps even needed more than ever before. It is only the fear in men of not being in control that stands in the way of women being respected as equals for the absolute value they are for life.
The fabric of our societies and human existence would be so much more than what we have lived through – and continue to perpetuate – if everyone was to take real responsibility to eliminate the need to be in control.