Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Agent in Agency

Agency is one of the most prominent concepts in Mormon doctrine. Put most simply, it is the capacity we have to act. This ability is fundamental to our existence.  Our scripture says, “All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence. Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man.” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:30-31, italics added) The Book of Mormon speaks of our ability to act for ourselves and not be acted upon, noting also that our agency can expand or contract, that we are able “to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil.” (2 Nephi 2:26-27)

An important practical question then is, “How can we develop our agency?” To answer this question I like to think a little more about the scriptural connection between agency and existence. Like many things in the Gospel, we can approach agency in multiple ways. We can think of agency as something we have but we can also think of it as a description of who we are. We are agents. We beings who act, beings who do things. We speak, eat, walk, sing, think, learn, plan, love, and many more things. We connect to people emotionally, become friends, and raise families.  To develop our agency then is to develop our capabilities as agents to do all these things and do them well.

Action involves many things including muscles, intellect, speech, emotion, and interpersonal relationships. At the most basic level we act by moving our bodies. A child first learns to act by rolling, crawling, and walking. Athletes act in more complex ways by running, jumping, swimming, etc. We act and make decisions by thinking and deliberating with others. This involves intellectual development that expands our agency. Perhaps most challenging are actions involving relationships and emotions. We are sometimes impeded by our fears and doubts, especially about ourselves. Developing emotional intelligence and confidence is an essential part of growing as agents. Understanding ourselves as agents requires this kind of comprehensive view of ourselves.

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