Personal Agency Gets Us Where We Want to Go (consciously or unconsciously)

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I recently learned of two programs tackling the challenge of Breaking the Cycles of Poverty in Mexico and Africa with amazing results. Why are they working? What is the definition of working? The processes/programs/methodologies honor, encourage and develop the natural Personal Agency and Intrinsic Motivation inherent in individuals and communities. What they find is that much is impacted with this focus. It speaks volumes to how we envision our life.

The Enabling Empowerment Principle - Intrinsic Motivation

A person is empowered when they are able to make choices on their own that determine what their next steps will be. The more choices you are free to make on your own, the more empowered you are. The choices you make can have a positive result or a negative result. An empowered person is responsible for his or her life and decisions.

Breaking The Poverty Cycle & Sustainable Development – Pic and Sirkin (Program in Mexico) speak of it this way:

An optimally functioning democratic society entails a citizenry that participates in constructing its future. We have stressed the importance of laws, infrastructure, clinics, and schools in creating the structural context in which people lead their daily lives. Policies and program can enhance choice, personal agency, and intrinsic empowerment so that people may form a strong social core. Change in systems of paternalism and rule-boundedness – especially at the local level is realized through the actions of agentically empowered citizens and leaders.

A mindset of a personal agency requires thinking beyond isolated behaviors, to perceive oneself as part of a community and as an agent, rather than object, of change. Programs that address several domains of activity facilitate a more comprehensive conceptualization of oneself as an agent. They do so by supporting the application of the developed skills across a number of situations, thus building wider competencies and creating opportunities to execute new behaviors. This process requires not only common skills but also the reduction of psychological and social barriers.

When psychological barriers are sufficiently reduced, personal agency can evolve to the point where individuals begin to see themselves simultaneously as part of the context and influential within it. We named this intrinsic empowerment. Drawing from the fields of socio-economic research and psychology, intrinsic empowerment combines the ideas of empowerment and personal agency as part of a fluid context. It is a specific form of empowerment that is intrinsically derived and therefore, we argue, is more likely to be sustainable. Together, individuals empowered with these psychological characteristics have the capacity to profoundly impact communities, and institutes within their communities.

Pic and Sirkin’s work is influenced by Robert S. Hartman’s original work on formal Axiology of which I spoke last issue in terms of different ways of knowing.

David Glenwinkle’s work with reveals similar values of approach. He is a gifted writer bringing the challenges and history of Africa into focus with his book, Insanity of Africa and his OPOS Facilitator’s Guidebook. He points out a history of what works and what doesn’t with these two documents.

I found myself thinking of other programs that are demonstrating promising similar results for similar reasons - Restorative Justice, Delancey Street Foundation Correction System, Homeboy Industries, and Neighborhood Promise, to name but a few). What they share in common is an underlying belief assumption that Personal Agency and Intrinsic motivation are alive and well in all living beings. It’s as if when these natural capacities are not used, they atrophy. They don’t go away, but with a paternalistic, sometime well intended approach with imposed rule-bounded structures, the living being has a couple of choices; to give in and go along with that imposition in order to receive minimum survival needs provided by the system. Or they can fight, be a rebel or join a gang or worse, create a war.

As Norm helped us see, there are Organizing Principles (OP) operative throughout living organism system processes. Although we don’t actually know these OP as yet, such programs of success are clearly pointers to the existence of something beyond what current sciences typically give attention.

Philosophical definition of Organizing Principle:“A truth so obvious that it has no other. “ Example: A circle is a circle by definition. There are no “sort-of circles.”

Such principles show up in mathematics and physics, but to see such operatives that are so omni-present in our lives and living patterns, we need to expand our minds beyond the “thing” thinking that keeps us locked and trapped in the world of matter where life has taken deep habit and change is not so dynamic. (Laws of physics, force and motion of molecules)

Please don’t get distracted by that because we are not there yet in understanding life’s deep patterns where we can make declarations of such truths, but we’re getting close and if we study these program approaches it just might help it come into greater focus.

Let’s see how these principles show up in the envisioning process of living.

Wiki definition:

agency is the capacity of an agent (a person or other entity, human or any living being in general, or ( soul-consciousness in religion) to act in a world. The capacity to act does not at first imply a specific moral dimension to the ability to make the choice to act, and moral agency is therefore a distinct concept. In sociology, an agent is an individual engaging with the social structure. Notably, though, the primacy of social structure vs. individual capacity with regard to persons' actions is debated within sociology. This debate concerns, at least partly, the level of reflexivity an agent may possess. Agency may either be classified as unconscious, involuntary behavior, or purposeful, goal directed activity (intentional action). An agent typically has some sort of immediate awareness of his physical activity and the goals that the activity is aimed at realizing. In ‘goal directed action’ an agent implements a kind of direct control or guidance over their own behavior.[1]

Human agency

Human agency is the capacity for human beings to make choices. It is normally contrasted to natural forces, which are causes involving only unthinking deterministic processes. In this respect, agency is subtly distinct from the concept of free will, the philosophical doctrine that our choices are not the product of causal chains, but are significantly free or undetermined. Human agency entails the claim that humans do in fact make decisions and enact them on the world. How humans come to make decisions, by free choice or other processes, is another issue.

Give yourself a minute to connect to your own capacity for self-knowing, self-reflection, self-acting and self-valuing. My agency keeps me writing this column, talking with clients, and folks anywhere I can to learn more about how life works. It’s my SkyeVIEW. I love it and it produces challenges of how to communicate what this worldview of mine is. It constantly gives me the next impulse for thought, or no thought. I notice when I feel good, when I don’t. I’ve lived a life of self-determination some conscious and lots unconscious, but nevertheless, it’s been my experience not anyone else’s. You know so much, as do I. We each have lived x number of years, acting, getting results from our actions, our thoughts, beliefs and feelings. I see each of us as a vortex of all that we “survey,” all that we have experienced.

The word autonomous means “self-law.” We, by necessity, must be autonomous beings in a sea of “otherness” as we make choices, decisions finding our way from moment to moment based on this vortex of experiential knowing. Ever notice how irritated you feel when someone tries to tell you what do, think or feel? I suspect, not happy, or least if you are honest with yourself, you don’t like it. No one can get inside you and tell you what it is you are feeling, thinking, or knowing, for that matter.

Consider, how do you know when you are thirsty or need to use the toilet? How do you know when your thirst has been quenched? If we were not autonomous in this way others could get inside us and tell us what to do and think, it would violate centuries of living development and create chaos to this vital process of organism organization. Finding coherence most likely would not be possible. Cohere means to hold together, and when there is no “organizing” center or vortex, how would we know what or when or how to take any action?

With what we are learning about human organisms, we see that communication is much more than words, i.e., intending, choosing, acting, valuing all are done through personal agency and intrinsic motivation. What is your experience or definition of “good” of “frustration” of “purpose?” It’s all added up in your vortex and all that you are is your intrinsic self. Your very existence is communicating on many levels at once even without words.

Now let me emphasize also that we are connected and we are not laws unto ourselves. We are not islands or pillars of individual strength or weakness or “self-made” beings alone as much as old thinking might lead us to believe. No, we are very much living like molecules in a sea of other molecules all acting true to some organizing principle or principles bumping up against and moving with one another as if all dancing our unique self-law dance within some core unifying rhythm of life. The connectedness is also not totally apparent, but once again there are lots of pointers.

Our lives are such pointers. Value your Personal Agency and Intrinsic Motivation. It all begins here inside each of us. Enjoy it – it will lead you to deepest and greatest meaning and satisfaction, fulfillment.

Intrinsic (loving, acceptance of the whole self - all your inherent nature) and

Extrinsic (measurement of good or less good on the basis of what your experience says is effective) and

Systemic (measurement by fulfillment of beliefs, rules, laws, constructs and structures that support the other two levels of function)

All three dimensions of valuing are used in finding those most effective fulfilling coherence acts only we can know from within.