Agents of Ourselves

agency (noun): the capacity to produce a particular effect or result — from the Latin agere: to do

In the Salon 360˚ session that took place on January 28, more than 30 of us discussed the requirements for open communication. We came to consensus on the notions that open communication requires a combination of honesty and courage. It requires an open heart and thick skin. It requires the establishment of ground rules that maintain decorum. It requires that each be respectful enough of the other to listen, to suspend judgement, to separate ego from ideology. It sometimes requires requesting permission to speak candidly. It sometimes requires requesting permission to think through what’s been said before being able to respond appropriately. And we all agreed it’s incumbent on each of us to be responsible for doing those things before we can expect others to act in kind.

That determination to own one’s ability to influence situations — to be what Werner Erhard called cause in the matter — I call agency.

That you are the cause of everything in your life is a place to stand from which to view and deal with life – a place that exists solely as a matter of your choice. The stand that one is cause in the matter is a declaration, not an assertion of fact. It simply says, “you can count on me (and I can count on you) to look at and deal with life from the perspective of my being cause in the matter.” When you have taken the stand (declared) that you are cause in the matter of your life it means that you give up the right to assign cause to the circumstances, or to others. That is, you give up the right to be a victim. (Werner Erhard)

I think it’s fair to suggest, then, that what we discussed and agreed to on January 28 recognizes our own agency — the necessity of realizing that agency — in everything we do, think, and say.

Like seeing a car you’ve never seen before or hearing a word you’ve never heard before, only to see that car and hear that word everywhere thereafter, I find more and more people writing about morality lately. Some of them refer to their own senses of morality, which turn out to be as prescriptive as they are proscriptive: “This is good”. “Oh, that’s really bad.” Neither of those pronouncements fosters unity. Both of them are judgmental — arbitrarily, dogmatically so.

As an acquaintance, Melanie Sturm, writes in this article — “Want Unity? Tame the pandemic…and I don’t mean COVID” — we should be seeking the consensus that might actually constitute an operable morality, a functional, harmonious middle ground:

So, unplug from cable TV, the parrot-like mainstream press, and the social media memes and mobs destroying our moral consensus. Find free and heterodox thinkers to inform and inspire you. Have conversations with people who think differently, always practicing the Golden Rule while questioning, listening, and searching for common ground.

I’m pathologically averse to tooting my own horn. But I’m going to get over myself momentarily, just long enough to ask you to read this. I wrote it almost five years ago. It’s as true today as it was then in two ways:

  1. We will be controlled if we permit ourselves to be — by politicians, by their media surrogates, by those who identify with and as members of groups, by those who benefit from our divisions and our antagonisms.
  2. We can’t be controlled if we hold tightly and passionately to our individuality, to our sovereignty, to our agency, and to our commitments to meeting each other as individuals with choices, with the capacities for love, compassion, and hope.

Most important, don’t look back. In the absence of time machines, we can only change the future.

Let’s get started.


Mark O'Brien
Mark O'Brien
I’m a business owner. My company — O’Brien Communications Group (OCG) — is a B2B brand-management and marketing-communication firm that helps companies position their brands effectively and persuasively in industries as diverse as: Insurance, Financial Services, Senior Living, Manufacturing, Construction, and Nonprofit. We do our work so well that seven of the companies (brands) we’ve represented have been acquired by other companies. OCG is different because our business model is different. We don’t bill by the hour or the project. We don’t bill by time or materials. We don’t mark anything up. We don’t take media commissions. We pass through every expense incurred on behalf of our clients at net. We scope the work, price the work, put beginning and end dates on our engagements, and charge flat, consistent fees every month for the terms of the engagements. I’m also a writer by calling and an Irish storyteller by nature. In addition to writing posts for my company’s blog, I’m a frequent publisher on LinkedIn and Medium. And I’ve published three books for children, numerous short stories, and other works, all of which are available on Amazon under my full name, Mark Nelson O’Brien.

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  1. Thank you for this one, Mark. I think we are all works in progress on this particular point. From a neurological perspective, it’s impossible to recognize agency in everything we think, do, and say. Our mental models, attitudes, and judgements are often colored by unconscious biases and heuristics – we don’t even know it happens. But it happens all the time. Given that more than 90% of our thought processes occur in our unconscious, the brain while wildly efficient, is often deeply flawed. Your piece here is a good reminder that agency takes intention. We can all listen, share, and consider other perspectives with a little more intention these days. This is the nugget I’m taking with me:
    “Find free and heterodox thinkers to inform and inspire you. Have conversations with people who think differently, always practicing the Golden Rule while questioning, listening, and searching for common ground.” Amen, my friend… amen!

    • Thank you, Melissa.

      I’m always trying to re-color my heuristics. I’ve typically been a Winter (black). But I’m trying to become a Summer (light gray). 🤪Work in progress, indeed.

      I’m glad you’re here, my friend.

  2. It was well worth following your “toot”, Mark, and resonated with my comment on Lana Prkic’s recent piece here on BC360, for us to ask the question of who have an interest in all of us tearing each other down.

    I was puzzled by you writing “By ignoring the goading of our betters” because how can anybody who try to goad us be “betters”? 😉

    So your advice to ignore the goading resonated; to me, the question of whom we allow to take up space in our minds and to influence us should be a daily reflection. Who do we want to be tomorrow and is this person helping or hindering that end?

    • Thank you, Frank. As it turns out, I’m right in the middle of watching your interview with John Mathis.

      United we stand. Divided we fall. Ain’t none of us around here going anywhere. 😉