Did you know we don’t learn to be helpless?

Coming back from a few weeks vacation in San Francisco, I was more primed than usual to believe that helplessness is something we learn from oppressive or impossible situations.

So this article took me by surprise.

It turns out that learned helplessness got the order of events wrong. We don’t learn to be helpless, we start out being helpless.

This means that it’s actually taking action, and having agency over ones situation that is the learned behaviour.

From childhood we learn varying amount of agency, which hopefully sets us up to spend our lives uncovering more and more areas where we are not helpless. Agency is a skill.

In all the areas of life you’ve felt helpless, our not in control, the chances are high that you haven’t learned agency yet. Naturally there are things outsides of our control, but that doesn’t mean we can’t change how we react and adapt to those things. The Stoics got that part very right.

This idea makes me extremely hopeful. Not just for myself, but for the future of society. This means we can learn to be more in control of our fates, and less victims of circumstance.

I also suspect this is why poverty tends to be hereditary, and some high performing families can be high performing over generations. It’s not about genes. They just learn a different level of agency.

This makes me want to binge “learn to have agency content”, and if you feel the same here’s a thread I recently I liked by George Mack.