Who is Entitled to 'Agency'?

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What makes one voice more valuable than another? Whose views and opinions matter more in a community and societal setting? At what level, and at what point, did we (a society) collectively decide which histories are be taught and perpetuated generation after generation? If we have “grown” and “become more intelligent and efficient” beings, why have we not adjusted our systems to reflect that evolution? What are we so afraid of?

I think the Millennial and Gen X generations get a lot of heat from previous generations in the ways they choose to live (or not live) and engage with the world. For example, remember all the crap in the media thrown at the Millennial generation because they “didn’t want to work”? Granted, these are opinion pieces and entirely subjective, but I was not a fan of the way that many of these pieces were spun in attack of the Millennial work ethic. I grew up with a workaholic father and a mother who is always running around doing something in order to feel some sense accomplishment in her day (characteristics that I, too, now embody – to some degree), but there has always been something in me that does not agree with this system of working your life away. Millennials are just a bit more vocal and action-oriented in their disagreement to said system than previous generations (say the ‘hippies’ or ‘beatniks’) and carry that attitude through to their work-style. In short: they have evolved with the times. Those times being a strong current of individuals not digging an absolute lack of work/life balance in our culture. Millennials want to live.

I recently sat in on a seminar that was discussing setting boundaries in work and personal environments. The psychologist presenting went a bit off topic and made an aside to touch on ‘having agency’. In social science, agency is the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. In psychology, agency implies the ability of the individual to perceive and change the environment and achieve the intended goals with different actions. She went on to say that this is something that is only afforded to adults: minors are not extended this idea of ‘having agency’. While I fully comprehend that, as a child and a budding adult, there are some things that you cannot fully grasp – and ‘having agency’ to its fullest definition is just not yet in their wheelhouse - I believe we (the “adults”) do a huge disservice to our youth (and by extension, ourselves) by not extending them a fuller wheel of agency.

In my opinion, by allotted our youth deeper agency, our systems may begin to evolve with the generational change in values, beliefs, perception and needs. They will adjust to reflect the sign of the times. And with that adjustment, our society will begin to evolve with the changes of environment, climate, technology, knowledge and cultural/societal values and needs. As is, it seems that we are having a challenging time doing such, as we see-saw between playing catch-up to slipping back into old, unhealthy habits. If our older generations were able to allot our younger generations more agency, I think that would be truly acting to the outward claim of ‘making the future a better place for our children’, as it would reflect a future that those children will be more content in living in – a future that our older generations will not/may not live to see.

It seems to me that we do not value the voices of our youth. We tell them that they “do not know what they are talking about”; that they “are too young to understand”; that certain views, opinions and beliefs were not present in “our time” and therefore are not “correct”. We are setting them up for a future that is disjointed, fractured, and out of place to the times they are and will be living through. We are setting up a future for them that does not reflect who they are and may defeat their spirits, hearts and minds. We are kind of setting them up for a future that is actually a past and that simply does not work. Throw an ancient Greek citizen into current age United States and that simply will not jive will for that Greek individual. The times, they have changed.

That brings me back to my original questions of thought: What makes one voice more valuable than another? Whose views and opinions matter more in a community and societal setting? If we have “grown” and “become more intelligent and efficient” beings, why have we not adjusted our systems to reflect those evolutions? What are we so afraid of? What are we so afraid of? Control is an illusion. Patterns exist, yes, but chaos does too. The only constant is change. Can we change, too?

-Samantha Hanchett, Marketing + Outreach Coordinator

*Please note that the opinions of “Thoughts” are just that and do not necessarily represent the views of the Thomas County Public Library.


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