Friday, September 9, 2016


From -

Agency (noun): the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power

Advocate (verb): to support or argue for (a cause, policy, etc.); to plead in favor of

If I lack agency, I lack the ability or power to take action to change my circumstances or to address my problems.

If I lack the ability to advocate, I am unable to give verbal support to defend or promote my opinions or ideas, or to engage in physical activity conducive to effective, positive change.

Ironically, it is often those most intimately acquainted with an injustice or a trauma or with a should-not-be-this-way life situation who feel most keenly a a lack of agency and a crippling inability to advocate. Those who know and understand a problematic situation best, those who have first-hand battle experience, frequently find themselves incapacitated by a kind of shell-shock-induced paralysis.

Sometimes this paralysis is self-imposed: a resigned passivity that is simply emotionally and physically easier than any type of intentional, ongoing activity.

Sometimes this paralysis is learned. "Fool me once: shame on you. Fool me twice: shame on me." Attempts at agency or advocacy that result in repeated failure can cause a person to believe, "Nothing I do helps. I can't do anything to change this situation." And so they give up trying.

Sometimes this paralysis is culturally imposed. I am a woman. I have experienced first hand dismissive or belittling treatment from men who behave as if women have nothing of value to bring to the table of life besides sex, dinner, and a freshly-ironed shirt. However, when I have tried to address such attitudes, I have repeatedly encountered responses that go something like, "Oh, of course you would think women need to be treated with more respect: you're a woman, after all!"

Because I am a woman, it is assumed, I am incapable of anything like an objective perspective concerning the treatment of women. The men I've addressed, on the other hand - because they are not women and therefore do not have my "vested interest" - think they are somehow capable of completely objective opinions!

I read recently that most people do not "listen to understand" - they "listen to respond." In other words, most of us are not very interested in learning what lies behind another person's words - what they are thinking or feeling, their experiences, their concerns. Instead, we are interested in formulating our own erudite responses to whatever it is the other person feels a need to express - why their opinions or concerns are unfounded, why they are wrong, why they are irrelevant or inconsequential.

Listening to respond is all about me - about promoting my thoughts, my opinions, my self. Listening to understand is about the other person - about wanting to better understand their thoughts and experiences and concerns.

I am guilty of listening to respond. I am tired of listening with such tiny ears. Listening-to-respond is an egocentric little world about the size of a pinhead.

I want to learn to listen to understand. I want to listen with ears so big that they turn my world inside out.

And then, after having learned to listen well, I want to learn to speak, to advocate, to be an agent for positive change.

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