Fly on the Wall—Waiter, Waiter, there’s a Hole in my Agency

Fly on the Wall—Waiter, Waiter, there’s a Hole in my Agency

Who is the you that makes your choices yours?  AU lets us put our option muscles to work in a big way; these decisions embody our personal agency.  We exercise agency each time we prioritize our individual studies over calls for attention in our private and work lives.  To have agency is to have a positive grasp on our faculties of decision making.  From there we can put plans into action.  Student life is full of choices: when to study our course material, when to let it lapse until a bolt of scholastic stimulation strikes; even when we feel like getting down to business, external forces can muscle their way into our minds and lead us astray from our noble intentions.  Choices are never cut and dried, and to address the nature of our personal agency is essentially to better understand our selves and our context.  Consider what happens when we say to ourselves that, just now, we don’t feel much like studying.  AU can invoke an awful lot of just now I don’t feel like moments.  An invisible key is turned when we turn away from our studies such that opportunities, say for summer frolics in the great outdoors, are unlatched.

Crucially, whenever we say I feel like or I don’t feel like we naturally experience a space, a gap, between ourselves and the desire of our longings.  In this way our self is separate from the actions that illustrate our being.  There’s a hole in our agency and, paradoxically, that hole is the essence of ourselves!  By this token, to procrastinate isn’t to fall from grace—because we are always choosing our choices and being ourselves—it’s the quality of these choices that are thrown into question.

Feelings about our agency allow us to intuit what our core self most desires.  The very moment when we say the I we acquire a certain distance from our feelings and the actions that follow upon them.  In other words, who we are is separate from even our most intimate predilections.

Our core, our inner we, is as timeless as a dandelion fluff on a summer breeze, if we remember that our choices are mere manifestations of our agency and not manifestations of the entirety of our being.  In this sense freedom from absolute responsibility for our actions allows a lighter weight on our metaphysical shoulders when we don’t live up to our own lofty expectations.  Go easy, for the going is separate from the being.  This way of thinking also reduces the problematic nature of our agency.  Remember, we can never be sure if decisions reflect ourselves or are simply pressed upon us by those pesky external forces.  A good dose of reflection is needed if we are to establish priorities and in particular a sense of what our future self is likely to retroactively endorse as ideal choices.

Feeeeelings and the Unconscious

Feeling like choosing something other than studying implies that we tend to carry within us resistance to doing what may need to be done to please our future selves.  Unconscious aversions to pleasing others includes our future selves; no one wants to be told what to do all the time, not even by themselves.  Likewise, choosing from a panoply of actions in a given moment occurs against a cultural backdrop of ideologies that function as a blue screen against which our sense of reality is written.  Our choices thus hinge on our interpretation not only of what our true self desires, over and against external forces, but also bearing countenance to unconscious trickery that leads us astray from the big picture.

Finally, we must come to terms with the coercive nature of socialization itself.  Psychoanalytic theory approaches here are useful for its approaches to repression; that is, unconscious impulses made manifest by inner conflicts over decisions.  A psychoanalytic therapist will “typically pursue and elaborate the resisted action” when it’s brought up in dialogue with a client.  This is because “a central aim of psychoanalysis is to expand the area of consciousness, to include ideas and affects that have been repressed” (Vehvailanen, online).

Once we’re aware of resistance as an unconscious force taking the form of self-repression we can own and potentially tame these impulses—when we feel like doing so, that is.  There’s no getting away from the hall of mirrors that makes agency problematic whenever we’re unsure of our future actions.  Even when external reality seems to be the reason we don’t study enough, it’s down to our inner mind to evaluate reality and bring certainty to our choices.

It’s fair to say that our unconscious is pulling a few levers that mitigate our best of intentions and can leave us stymied when in pursuit of our academic goals. Whatever else our agency is, it certainly can be a contested terrain.  Inner turmoil can, however, be useful in that new ruminations may lead to new and exciting ideas and interpretations of our course material and its relation to our lives.  The personal is never more political, per se, than when we come to see our reality within the scope of an academic discipline.

In contrast to the inner world of unconscious inclinations are the very real societal pressures that impact our agency.  Sociologically an understanding of the cultural realm is key to controlling its consequences in pursuit of our best interests.  We’re in a social soup driven by mass media; this can, at the least, be distracting.  “Portraying a social problem as complex, with multiple points of view and structural dimensions, may be what citizens in a democracy need to grasp to try to understand the world around them.  But it doesn’t make for a tidy 3-minute news segment sandwiched between commercials for pharmaceuticals or financial consultants” (Eastern Oregon University, online).  Despite limitations under the general rubric of brevity is the soul of wit, whereby simple answers ring truer and pat assertions sound authentic, it’s empowering to make new sense out of old troubles; maybe personal growth in the area of critical thinking is one of those invisible merits of an AU education.

The challenge with distance education, like any task where one is simultaneously the task and the taskmaster, is that to stay on course we have to beware and be aware of conflicting motivations in any given moment.  That is, hopefully,  until we actually sit down and get immersed in the joys of our course readings and essay writings.  At the very least, when we’re done we’ll have a better assessment of our motivational abilities, because, like any new project, the outset is one thing and the carrying-out quite another.  So, let’s grab our inner stirrup and pull ourselves forward to meet our goals.  May our best inner impulses win!

Eastern Oregon University.  (2005).  SOC 205.  Retrieved from
Vehvilainen, S.  (2009).  ‘Identifying and Managing Resistance in Psychoanalytic Interaction’.  Cambridge Core.  London: Cambridge University Press.
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