I’ve written before about the world of students, where agency is either up for grabs or strangely bestowed. This statement is another example…and I have more, so brace yourself for things eventually to come.
In this hopeful sentence, my student envisions an entity called “change” waiting somewhere out there in the cold, longing to come to us, striving to come to us, but as yet alas unsuccessful in actually coming.
What is impeding or restraining it? Is Change chained in a dungeon or kennel, unable to roam at will? Is everyone standing atop a high and dangerous peak, looking down at Change as it stands impotently below, no ropes or pitons or ice axes available for its climb? Is change suffering from some debilitating disease or condition? Is it ready and willing, but lacking that third essential state for its advent?
I try these various circumstances on a little cartoon fellow I’ve named “Change,” and I hope that someday he will be enabled. My student has given change the agency here, and “everyone”—picture a cluster of disparate line figures—has to do the heavy lifting to enable him to exercise it: cutting the lock on the chain or kennel; sending down a rope or a basket lift; curing the disease or structuring the rehabilitative exercises; in some other way making straight the highway, opening doors, providing transportation, drawing a map, hauling on a line. I try to picture us doing the needed thing. Calling all hands!
But so much is uncertain in the hopeful sentence that even hope is difficult. “If” everyone works together, yes, but how often does that actually happen, and how much preliminary work is necessary to bring it off? Furthermore, this conditional condition is necessary only to create the possibility that change will be able to fulfill his end of the bargain: change may be able to come. How easy is it to get everyone to work together just on the off-chance that their labors will bear fruit?
One thing my student seems sure of: everyone working together will not effect change; it will only create the conditions under which Change, under its own independent efforts, might decide to come and then manage to get here.
Oh, I knew what he meant: if we work together we might achieve the change we desire. But he didn’t write that. Change has the agency; we are merely enablers of the possibility that it will exert that agency.
This is a first-year student. Three more years, and then he will be expected to step out and take the world in his hands. I hope he learns before then that he has to do something; the world won’t meekly choose to put itself at his disposal.