0105-Overtones: Second Level Agency

I had another dream this morning around 8am where I was presented (again, without any real context—the idea just “occurred” to me, if you will) with an idea.

In this case, it was the idea that there are two levels of agency. The first level is the basic level that we all have—the capacity to choose our attitudes about our circumstances, and then work within our circumstances to make things work out for the best. This is the level that most people live out their lives in. This is where the real test of mortality takes place, where we show our Father in Heaven that we are willing to do all things whatsoever He commands us.

But there is a second level of agency. It is the level where a person rises above his/her circumstances. It’s the level that makes the great leaders, reformers, entrepreneurs, inventors, as well as the tyrants, Hitlers, and manipulative and wildly successful salesmen.

This second level of agency isn’t limited to circumstances, but can actually bring about significant changes to circumstances. It’s available to all, though it will manifest itself very differently in every person who chooses to use it.

So what is the difference between those who live entirely in first level agency and those who develop and live in second level agency? That’s what we discuss in this program.

You Can Choose!

I’ve grown increasingly interested in how many things we have a choice about. And while I agree that there are many things we can’t choose, there are a lot more things we can choose than we think. Let’s say, my house, for example. Let’s imagine I don’t like my house (hypothetical, because I actually love my house). If my finances are really tight, I may be inclined to think I don’t have the choice to move. But the fact is, I always have the choice to move. I could move into a smaller, cheaper place.

Well, yeah, you may think, but that doesn’t count! Oh? And why not? If I choose to find a new place to live, and continually work toward that decision, I’ll find a new place, and I’ll move there. If I simply want to move into a bigger home, and I choose to do it, I’ll begin adapting my behavior to match that decision. I may develop building skills, and learn over several years how to build a bigger home than I have for less cost.

This goes for behaviors, personal challenges, and attitudes, too. Some studies show that stress is bad for your health. More recent studies show that stress tends to be bad for you only if you think it’s bad for you. The same studies show that those who believe stress is good for them tend to develop powerful stress resilience and grow in the field of that stress. Here’s a powerful TED Talk about this idea:

My point in sharing it here is to say that you can choose your attitude, you can choose your reactions, and you can choose your decisions. If there’s something in your life that you don’t like, think hard about whether or not that thing is really outside of your ability to choose, and make a proactive choice of something to do about it.

Horrid Night

Last Saturday was a great day. We visited family, hung out with old friends, and generally had a great time all day. Even the sunset was beautiful. Then came bedtime.

Oh. My. Kids.

There were more blood-curdling screams than at the Nightmare on 13th haunted house. And why were they screaming? Heaven only knows. At bedtime, needs change constantly so as to provide a constant barrage of excuses to keep Mom and Dad’s attention. And if one request can’t be supplied, all Hades breaks loose, and before we know it, one side of the house is filled with weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth (or gums, in Squeakers case), and the other with adults trying to drown out the sound with pillows over their ears. Beyond timeouts and lecturing, what’s a parent to do? After numerous door-smashing tantrums, heated lectures, and threats of lost privileges, the wailing only got worse. Jenni and I were both on the verge of an all-out breakdown. The idea of letting the kids wail themselves to sleep was the ultimate plan, but just try laying in bed and sleeping peacefully for three hours with a perpetual onslaught of screams coming from the other side of the house.

It was completely insane. In the end, one of them ended up sleeping on the couch (don’t ask me why that helped). Was it a good idea to let him have his way after a horrid tantrum? Maybe not, but by that time, we were on the verge of full mental breakdowns.

At church the next day, the brother teaching the lesson talked about something that had happened this last week that really caught my attention.

He said that the previous Monday had been one of the worst days in over a decade. One small thing after another, and though the entire day was just absolutely horrid, his one consolation was that at the end of the day he was able to kneel by his bed and thank the Lord that even though nothing had gone right that day, he’d been able to face each situation in righteousness – doing the right thing despite how horrid he felt.

I thought about the previous evening. It had been absolutely horrible. And though I felt like lashing the lot of them, I hadn’t. Though I felt like screaming at them, I didn’t. I was firm, but I didn’t do anything regrettable. As I realized that, all the stress and frustration from the night before just melted away. I had done the right thing. I knew I could at least say that much. Sometimes we can only do life a day at a time, and some days will be awful. But if we can say we acted in righteousness to the best of our knowledge, then we can be sure that the Lord is helping.

Sixty Days to Live…

play-with-me-baba For family home evening tonight we watched a movie called, “Return with Honor,” about a young guy who gets in a terrible car accident, and has a near death experience where he is asked what he has yet to accomplish in his life.  He gives his response and he is told that he has sixty days.

It got me thinking.  What would I do with my life if I knew I only had sixty days to live?  Obviously I would wish to be able to raise my kids and take care of my wife, but if I knew that wasn’t an option, and I only had sixty days left, what would I do with it?

I was listening to an advice call-in program on the radio one day, and I don’t remember what the caller was asking advice on, but the advice given was interesting.  “Your doctor just called you and said you have six months of life left, and not a day more.  I’m not saying this just to make you think about it, I want you to decide what you need to do in that six months, and then YOU DO IT!  Six months.  That’s all you get.  What ever you would do if you only had six months to live, do it.”

So, what would you do?  What would you stop doing?  What would you change?  Who would you visit?

Think about that  – whether sixty days or six months, whatever you would do in that time if you knew you were going to die, do it.

Making Moments – Free to Choose

Making Moments – Free to Choose

I’ve decided to try to take a moment each day to teach each of the kids some important gospel principle.  They are so young, and it would be easy to start the habit now.  If I wait, it will get tougher to do later.

Some say that they will make church available to their kids, but will allow them to choose whether or not they want to attend.

This idea is terribly lacking.  Our children cannot choose between good and evil if they do not get sufficient encouragement toward the good.  Just by living in the world, they will see all the bad they need to in order to know what the bad choices are.

If we do ALL WE CAN to teach, guide, and encourage, our children to live the gospel – if we live the gospel as conspicuously as we can, and do all we can to help our kids know how a righteous person lives the gospel, then and only then will they have sufficient knowledge to choose whether to accept or reject it.

The world will not offer them the fulness of the gospel.  You must do that.  Then, when they are mature enough, and have had enough exposure to know the blessings of a Christ-centered life, they will choose.
And a good parent will never give up, no matter how how strongly the child turns against the truth, they will continue to love, encourage, exemplify, and teach their children the Lord’s way to live.

That is how we give our kids agency.  Anything less is denying them the opportunity to choose.