in: Advice, Character, Sunday Firesides

• Last updated: July 28, 2023

Sunday Firesides: Act or Be Acted Upon

The world can be divided into agents and objects. 

Things that make stuff happen, and things that have stuff happen to them.

The shaper, and the shaped. The mover, and the moved. The driver, and the screw.

No one is ever entirely one or the other, and you should be open to allowing positive influences to work upon you.

But an individual, who wishes to be an individual, should aim to live a life in which he is primarily an agent rather than an object.

Becoming an agentic being requires the adoption of three key principles.

The first is to strengthen the borders of the self. He who is unsure of his values, who is pliable and porous, will absorb whatever the prevailing currents of the time happen to be and get molded into whatever tools institutions, corporations, and legions of schemers find most suitable.

He who lacks a clear end, can be used for anyone else’s means.

The second principle for gaining agency centers on acquiring skills — of every kind: the ability to express your mind, and change another’s; fix an appliance, and your eye on an aim; lift a physical weight, and carry an emotional burden.

The more skills you amass, the more power you gain to be a cause rather than an effect — to control circumstances rather than be the product of them. 

Finally, agency rests on the principle of action itself — the recognition that unless you’re at least treading water, you’re going to be swept downstream. 

If you don’t decide what to fill your head with, where you want to go, and who you want to be, those decisions will be made for you by the entities and individuals who are exercising their agency.

Such is an inviolable law of this world: you either act, or are acted upon. 

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