I’ve been thinking these 3 things about agency recently and I like this definition from trusty Wikipedia. For some of us whose default setting is compliance, agency is a foreign concept. We agree in theory but have no skill in practice In fact, it needs some unpacking before we can grasp its meaning and allow it to be our lived experience.
Have you actually read the Declaration of Independence? You should. “… all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights …” This historical document acknowledges that when each human being looks into his or her hands, each will find a gift of potential accompanied by the right to choose, gifted to them by their Creator, designed for engaging in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And they can reasonably expect other human beings to honor the parameters that define the limitations for behavior which must thereby exist for this to happen peacefully in societies.
Along with rights comes responsibility. If I give you the keys to my new Lexus (it could happen…!), you are responsible (please!) to return it back safely; I entrust you with my money, you are responsible to manage it well; you leave me the choices for what size soda I will order, I will do what is best for my health…and probably drink water! Rights allow me to choose as I will. Responsibility persuades me to make choices that sustain my future options for continued life, liberty and pursuit happiness. Responsibility helps me ensure that others have the opportunity to do the same.
At the end of stewarding our rights responsibly is privilege—the privilege that comes with having exercised our right of choice and of choosing responsibly. The privilege of freedom—the freedom to drive the Lexus again; to use our money as we will, hopefully to do more and more good in the world; the freedom to live in health and at peace with one another sans oppression.
On the other hand, when we begin with privilege, we are ignorant of its process and prone to abuse. American culture has enjoyed a great deal of inherited privilege. We have held a disproportionate appreciation for rights in relation to responsibility. The unfortunate outcome is diminishing freedoms in which individuals have less and less opportunity to exercise their agency. For all our talk about “choice,” the innate impulse toward unalienable rights is suppressed and we are less proficient in knowing how, not just what, to choose when given opportunity.
And what of those who do not/are not choose(ing) “well”? you ask. Indeed. Many are wondering if we have reached a tipping point. Here’s the deal: In response to fear, we simply legislate new restrictions, new requirements. We impose our will on others which is to narrow our freedoms even more. We reach for a bandaid when tourniquets are indicated. We treat symptoms and not causes. And as always, an absence of Love is the cause.
“But it takes longer, is messier, more costly,” you say. Really? It seems to me things are pretty messy right now. Are you suggesting that the way we handle our differences over Hillary and Trump and dead black men and policemen and sexual orientation and religious liberties and reproductive discussions and terrorism and immigration and health care crises and… and… and… happened overnight?
How about if we start investing our effort in what will turn the tide? Instead of just telling people what to do and not do, what if we learn who people are, hear their stories, find out what needs drive the extremes of behavior and attitude like I saw recently in the Walmart checkout line.
In front of her three small children, she cursed at the homeless man, berated him for not taking a shower before he left home, then hurled, “At least I have a home!” I don’t know what drove her particular brand of verbal brutality. I was too late to the party, she was too escalated for that kind of conversation in the moment, and I had neither the time nor the courage to follow her and find out. But you can bet somewhere along her life path someone made a choice that resulted in her deciding such behavior was acceptable. Life? Liberty? The pursuit of happiness? Whose? And what happened that the guy was homeless? What’s that story? How far back do we go? Where does it start?
It starts today. With you. With me. As long as there is agency, people, the tipping point moves. For the love of all things decent, look in your hands. See the gift that is the right to choose. We can choose behavior that makes the world a kinder, less volatile place for this one moment, on this one day. And perhaps it will affect another’s tomorrow—thus your own.
Choose to follow your inner compass, the voice of the Spirit, your gut… If you can’t hear it, stop what you’re doing. Be quiet. Say nothing until you know. And even then, nothing until you can contribute something that moves Love, Life, the discussion forward.
Stop following and sharing the endless inflammatory posts you see on social media—even this one—and let Peace guide your thoughts and actions.
Recognize that you have agency:
Rights that have been given you by your Creator—to choose paths and responses, even when they seem limited. Start with one good choice. Like, clean a perpetually cluttered kitchen counter for goodness sake, and feel your family’s respect!
Responsibility to choose well—for yourself, for others, for the good of God’s design in the world!
Privilege—the result of exercising your rights responsibly, bringing freedom.
Freedom is the reward of accepting your agency, your commission to be engaged in the human enterprise–because you matter. Let’s do this.
Exercising my agency is choosing to write more, to post more frequently—at least today. So I am. What will you do to exercise yours?
- Receive your rights
- Choose responsibly
- Enjoy privileges of freedom