Individual Agency and the Power of Our Decisions

About a  month ago, I interviewed Jon Vella about his clothing company and his philosophy. Out of all of the responses, one particular one stuck out to me the most:

“I will always believe the most pressing issue the world is facing is the individual”-Jon Vella

When he said this, I instantly connected with this widely-known quote:

“Be the change you wish to see in the world”-Gandhi

And for good measure, it reminded me of one of my favorite monologs:

…It’s just a ride. And we can change it anytime we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings and money. A choice, right now, between fear and love.-Bill Hicks

What do all of these excerpts have in common? They emphasize the power of individual agency.

When Gandhi tells us to BE the change, he means to lead by example. It is our actions, no matter how modest, that eventually define us. We do not realize how much our daily habits affect our own lives, whether it’s a promise to go to the gym every day or the uncontrollable urge to scroll through social media. They can either aid us in our success or be the anchor in our setbacks. That it is why it is crucial to develop positive habits; because in the end, people are the sum of their actions.

Being aware of the consequences of our behavior answers Vella’s question about why the most pressing issues come down to the individual. Although we do not see the effects that our daily actions have at the moment, over the course of time they gain momentum with the snowball effect and becomes more difficult to change in the future.

One example is recognizing at a personal level how a person treats other people around them. If the person is opening and friendly then they are likely to receive a positive reaction in return, but if they are rude and antagonistic then they should expect the opposite. These two illustrations demonstrate Hick’s “fear and love” duality at play; we have a choice on how we treat others and it ultimately reflects how we perceive the world.

Furthermore, we can observe on a macro-scale what is going as we make decisions on a global scale. Just look at the case of how the world as a whole is dealing with environmental issues. Do we not understand that the effects of climate change are a gradual processStronger storms and severe droughts have been documented around the world, and they are having such a drastic effect that it helped ignite the Syrian refugee crisis. Even the Pentagon has given directives to its top command to assess the implications of climate change in their battle plans. Just as the problem humanity faces is a collective one, we must also come up with a collective solution.

What makes the three quotes mentioned at the beginning of this post have such profound meaning is that they operate on two levels. The first level is the appearance that the majority sees, that we have the power to change ourselves. But on a deeper level, those quotes insinuate by changing myself, I change the world.