Agency is closely linked to power. Without power, we cannot make choices, and without choices we have no agency. It is by our power to help, to learn, to build that we exercise agency. Each of these — helping, learning, building — are forms of agency. (Agency is also closely linked to work and value, but I’ll come back to those later.)
I’m fascinated by the idea of “forms of agency”. Most of us tend to exercise agency in only a very few forms, limited by our ignorance of the options available. For example, if you decided to bake muffins, you could exercise your agency to choose between several “forms of muffins”: blueberry, bran, orange, etc. But how about pepperoni muffins? Even if you had all the ingredients for pepperoni muffins in your kitchen, you could not have exercised your agency to bake them; the thought wouldn’t have entered your mind (at least not until you’d read about them here. Now when you bake muffins, your agency will be expanded as a result of having read this post — and that’s what Times & Seasons is here for: expanding your culinary agency :) ). In other words, beyond requiring just resources and skills, agency also requires awareness of the available options.
So I’ve created a framework of forms of agency. Each form is labeled with an archetype. I’m going to explore seven of these forms in a series here, starting today with “Knight”. My hope is that through discussing these forms of agency we might discover whole swaths of our lives that we miss exploring, just because we’re unaware of them.
Knight (popularity, achievement, recognition, leadership)
Like I mentioned, each form of agency is tied to a specific type of power. The power represented by the knight is the power of gathering, organizing, and directing people. It’s the power of popularity. (Like I said, my ultimate goal with this exercise isn’t to just abstractly enumerate powers, but specifically to do it with an end toward making people aware of powers available to them. Is “popularity” something that you’ve ever exercised? We talk about it as though it were something you either have or you don’t. But if we have agency, then it makes sense to me that popularity is a power you can choose to develop, like skill in music or programming.)
A lot of the knight’s power derives from his or her crowd. In fact, that’s the reason I chose the term “knight”. The knights in modern stories go on mystical quests and holy crusades. However, that’s not what historical knights are about at all. Historically, knights are about noble status and recognition, securing position, and building and protecting a manor (their “in” crowd).
Today, knights are the popular kids at school. They maintain an “in” circle, and there are benefits to belonging to a knight’s “in” circle. The knight is about making things happen. Knights are fun, but they’re not necessarily nice. (In fact, studies show that popularity is correlated with aggression, except at the highest levels of popularity. An easy example is the bloggernacle. The most popular members of the ‘nacle aren’t its nicest members.) Professionally, the agency of the knight is exercised by managers and executives, celebrities, activists, and clergy. These are all jobs where popularity and social influence lead to success.
Popularity isn’t a form of agency especially encouraged in the church (in fact, it’s probably the least encouraged of the seven forms of agency in my chart), but it still affects us. Generally the church encourages us to exercise agency in terms of obedience (the Monk) and service (Healer), and to a lesser extent through provident living (parts Merchant and Artisan). Along with popularity, creative expression (Muse) and learning for learning’s sake (Sage) also get short shrift. However, the church does encourage us to develop leadership skills, and popularity is an effective tool in leadership.
So how can you develop your “knightly powers”? I can’t say that I know. It’s not a form of agency I’ve explored much. But, from the outside looking in, here are my observations on what works:
- Make things happen socially. Invite people to your house. Throw parties. Join and lead in local organizations, or at church. Be fun and have fun.
- Be conscious of your image. Being a knight isn’t just about making things happen. It’s about making people think that you can make things happen. This means choosing how you present yourself in your clothes, words, actions, and internet presence. (This smacks of superficiality, and, in retrospect, that’s a lot of the reason that I’ve avoided this form of agency throughout my life. As I get older, I see it less as being superficial and more about recognizing that image is a form of communication and influence.)
- Be a little bit (or a lot) arrogant, aggressive, and obnoxious. (Knights are confident, but it’s really useless to tell someone to “be confident”, as though you could just will yourself into a new trait. What you can do is “do” until you are able to “be”. And, as far as I can tell, arrogance, aggression, and obnoxiousness are the “piano lessons” of becoming confident.)
- Humor. Knights make people laugh. This is as much about being confident as it is about being witty.
- [addition: Competition. Part of being a knight is demonstrating superiority. Knights are involved in sports in school rather than drama club. In sports, there's a clear winner and a clear loser, and everyone know which is which.]
So, to you knights out there, tell us about being popular. How’s that work for you? Is it a form of agency that you’re conscious of, and that you consciously take advantage of? Or is it just a natural part of who you are?