David Brooks' column today, which is published in the world's most influential newspaper, is about, uh... well, he starts out talking about George Eliot's love life, which he uses as a, uh, pretty bad example, honestly, of people asserting "agency" over their own lives, and then—presumably upon realizing that that example is so unconvincing—he starts rolling out the real scientific evidence.
I know an army officer who had a terrible commanding officer who only offered him negative feedback. He worked under this guy for 18 months, and whatever he did the feedback was the same. He had to come up with his own criteria to determine if he was doing well or poorly. He had to make decisions regardless of external affirmation or criticism. He discovered agency because external support was gone.
I once knew a guy who was batted about by people who should have supported him. For a time he took it, reacting painfully to each abuse. But finally he just got fed up. In a moment of indignation he lashed out. Every human soul is entitled to dignity and respect. He tasted agency in a flash of anger and an instant of revolt.
I once read about a guy whose childhood was a steady calamity. He was afraid, unable to control his mind and self. But he became a writer and discovered he was magnificent at it. Through the act of writing, he could investigate his fears and demystify them. He discovered agency by finding something he was good at and organizing his life around that gift.
As we have learned today, David Brooks knows or has read about at least three guys.