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Let’s Talk About Agency

The notion of “agency” has captured my attention. The term means being in control of one’s life and psychologically grounded in who you are, even in the face of change or challenges. It requires self-reflection and a concerted effort to stay focused on your standards not someone else's, even a parent. Many people are dependent on another, or crave approval and recognition which can make this self-regulating condition more difficult. As a twin, I understand the confusion around one's sense of self. Often, we don't know who we are deep down inside or what we really want.

The strength of our agency comes from within. For most of us it is a process of continuous development, regardless of the circumstances. Admittedly, there are degrees of self-assuredness. If expectations are too high there is a tendency to become overly critical and empty oneself of confidence. If you are a sucker who gets pushed around you have zero agency. For example: Many House Republicans knowingly communicate false narratives to appease Donald Trump. They are useful fools for a wannabe dictator but unsuitable leaders for American democracy.

Let's talk about people who exhibit having agency. Taylor Swift is a global phenomenon. Yet she has spoke about her isolation and personal struggles. Houston Texans' quarterback CJ Stroud took his team to the playoffs and made the Pro-Bowl in his NFL rookie year contrasted to Johnny Manziel, a stellar college football player for Texas A&M whose off the field controversies contributed to an unsuccessful career as a NFL quarterback.

Most of us are not superstars. Some are inflicted with low self-esteem and relinquish their agency to a person who may take advantage of them. I have empathy for people whose lack of self worth haunts them with sleepless nights. When you recognize an opportunity to make decisions for yourself or not seek someone's approval: Just do it!

Inch-by-inch, step-by-step, a key to reclaim one's agency is to be a better communicator.

Here, I address my readers and "talk" in a figurative sense. Although, some might even hear the words in their head while reading. David Abram in his book, "The Spell of the Sensuous" considers this is a form of synasthesia, where "sensory information in the brain triggers unrealated senses that are experienced simultaneously". Humans have this profound gift of language which helps us to survive, and more. It is imperative we find our voice and personal style of expression to get what we need. Most folks do not resort to the uncivilized behavior of murderers or thieves to satisfy their desires. In our everyday work world conversations are a two-way street but not in an armed robbery.

Let's consider the situation of an over abundance of agency. It can lead to smugness, and apathy for people. "According to David Brooks, author and columnist at the New York Times, a mere 30% of people worldwide are adept question askers. He attributes this deficiency to a lack of basic curiosity about others. The skills of listening well, expressing oneself clearly, asking open questions, and being able to respectfully engage in conversation are critical to learning and life." - Adam Fischer, Head of the Rashi School, a place of Jewish learning for children.

I am reminded of the tarot card, The Magician. Its beneficial aspect is manifestation through effective communication which helps us achieve our goals and connect to people. Generally, this card is depicted with the symbols of the four suits of the tarot displayed on a table before a practitioner. These demonstrate his or her resourcefulness. In turn, the figure represents a divine messenger: the Greek god Mercury, an angel, or prophet whose intentions are for the good. A bad aspect of this card is in the misguided use of the power of speech. How we talk to others and especially to ourselves can be destructive or transformative.

In a traditional deck this card is numbered I or 1 in the Suite of Trumps. However, I prefer the tarot's connection to the Hebrew alphabet. Each letter has spiritual, and inherent magical properties of a highly technical nature, not like birthday parties or circus act magicians. The important point is to be mindful of what you say. "Scholars who support the Hebrew etymology say the incantation "abracadabra" is a corruption of the Hebrew, ebrah k’dabri, meaning 'I will create as I speak,' ie that the act of speech will magically create new realities" (Rabbi Julian Sinclair's article in The Jewish Chronicle, 2018).

The Magician card lines up with the 2nd Hebrew letter, “Bet". Her numerical value is also 2, and she sounds like "b" as in book or at times like "v" as in "vault". Symbolically, she represents a house, a profoundly personal term which can signify protection. Images of The Magician and the letter Bet are on this website's Street Smarts page.

Decades ago one of my anthropology professors, Charles Laughlin likened a pseudoscientific therapeutic method to modern day magic. It initially arose from studies of "excellent communicators and agents of change" such as Milton Erickson, and Virginia Satir. It's approach to wellbeing is through altering one's thoughts and behavior, such as pay acute attention to how you talk to others and what you say to yourself. Another technique is to perceive and understand the subtle clues gleaned from non-verbal communication. For example notice a person's facial expressions, posture, tone of voice, and eye movements to give you a more complete picture of what they try to convey.

However, this method also has a dark side. If you're unscrupulous about gaslighting other people, and have the ability to read body language, an adept practitioner can manipulate the thoughts and behavior of those who are impressionable and vulnerable. Be extra careful of people who enjoy dominating others. Trust your gut instincts and intuition about these individuals. Stay far away from them, or minimize your contact as best you can.

There are visualization techniques to help you claim your agency. One is to imagine nestled in the hollow of the Hebrew letter Bet. Feel you are at "home" and decorate it as you like. It is a safe haven to express yourself in imaginary talks with people you have a troubled relationship. It is where you can develop, rehearse, and prepare for any possible backlash you may get when you do meet up in real-time. Contemplate a positive outcome. Now, you are ready to speak up for yourself. Also, for those folks who remember their dreams pay attention to images of houses, buildings, or what seems to be homes. Notice the mood and atmosphere accompanying these structures too. These symbols in your dream-theater can indicate your inner state of security, and sense of agency.

Winter Street Tarot
Street Tarot


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