The schools of agency and influence

There’s a violent tug of war going on in my mind. On one side is the School of Agency. Pulling hard on the other side is the School of Influence.

The School of Agency is best represented by the idea attributed to Viktor Frankl: in the space between stimulus and response is choice. This school says that we can decide what, who, how and why to be. That we can choose to be courageous or cowardly, that we can choose to be generous or selfish, that we can carve our character, with our choices, into whatever shape we please, regardless of the surrounding environment or prevailing pressures.

The School of Influence proposes the opposite. It is best summarised by the idea that you are who you surround yourself with. That you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. This school argues that the environment you are in, and the people that populate it, are the strongest determinant of your behaviour. That a good environment can transform a criminal, and that a bad environment can corrupt a good man.

I understand that this isn’t black and white, a binary choice. We live in a grey world, and The School of Agency and the School of Influence exist on a spectrum. But which side you lean towards has far reaching consequences. Because which side you favour determines how exactly you will go about improving yourself and the world around you.

I suppose that’s the question I’m asking myself, and asking you. Do we focus on empowering and educating the individual in order for him or her to better see and make the right choice? Or do we focus on building systems and environments that enable the right choices to be discovered and taken more easily?

Right now, I don’t know.