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An excerpt from Gary Lawrence’s forthcoming book “The Magnificent Gift of Agency; To Act and Not Be Acted Upon.”
We often hear the term “exercise agency.” Love the verb. Like a muscle, we use it or lose it. Agency is not a passive pronouncement, but a direct commandment to act, do something, achieve, accomplish. Otherwise there can be no experience, no progress, no life.
Thoughts are necessary forerunners to action. If we think good thoughts, we will acquire a desire to do good things, and vice versa.
“In essence, knowledge is an intellectual understanding of truth,” explained Elder Tad R. Callister, “while faith is a principle of action – it motivates us to live what we believe.”
Hurricane Harvey in August 2017 caused over 100 deaths and $125 billion in damages, tied with Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as the costliest hurricane in American history. Of the many acts of kindness and courage it triggered, the initiative of residents and concerned people from hundreds of miles around was especially noteworthy. As the winds subsided, the waters didn’t and many people were trapped. Recreational boaters saw how their particular resources could be used and formed a rescue flotilla with boats usually used for water-skiing and fishing – “an unprecedented do-it-yourself relief effort that came to define Hurricane Harvey.” No instigation from government. Totally private initiative. Wonderful results as thousands of people were taken to dry land.
Agency and action as the Lord intended.
A similar exercise of agency occurred when the Teton Dam in Idaho ruptured in 1976 flooding several downstream communities. By the time government agencies arrived with bologna sandwiches, they were met by Relief Society sisters serving hot casseroles. Initiative – doing things for the good of others without being told.
Winston Churchill wasn’t hesitant about many things. But when he took his first art lesson, he gingerly placed a dob of paint on the canvas. His art instructor grabbed the brush, sopped up a goodly amount of the goop, and splashed a bold swath of it across the canvas. His advice to Sir Winston: Don’t be afraid of the canvas. Begin.
As Shakespeare put it: “Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.”
Yoda said, “There is no try; only do.” That may be true if “try” is half-hearted, but he was wrong in the sense of experiment. Did Edison “do” a light-bulb? Yes, but he did many tries before the “done.”
French aristocrat Marquis de Lafayette could have coasted for life on the wealth of his distinguished landowning family, but sought action in the budding American Revolution in 1777, volunteering to serve without pay. And action again in the French Revolution of 1789. And the July Revolution of 1830. Seek the new; seek adventure.
If curiosity can be defined by the number of one’s interests, then the most curious person in history would be Leonardo da Vinci. Among his interests, each at which he invariably excelled, were “invention, painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history, and cartography.” Wonder about everything; follow your curiosity.
Mozart was a restless, prodigious genius. He composed over 600 works – from symphonies to sonatas, concertos to operas – in his short 35 years of life. His own assessment: “Believe me, I do not like idleness, but work.”
Taking risks and acting means leaving your comfort zone.
Although his ruthless methods are not to be applauded, Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia, “led a cultural revolution that replaced some of the traditionalist and medieval social and political systems with ones that were modern, scientific, Westernized and based on the Enlightenment.” He changed things.
To break a board with his bare hand, the karate expert does not aim at the board, but at a point in space a few inches below it. In the process of reaching the extended goal, the original objective is achieved as a byproduct. Set extended goals.
Agency and agenda come from the same root. If you have the former, create the latter.
Alma spoke to Zoramites of lower socio-economic status and suggested the same theme: try an experiment by planting a seed in your heart and see what happens. Try it, you’ll like it.
President Russell M. Nelson on September 15, 2018: “We are living in the most crucial era in the history of the world. Since the beginning of time, prophets have foreseen our day and prophesied about what would take place during this winding-up period before the Savior comes again. As a church, we need to be doing what the Savior wishes us to do. And as a people we need to be looking and acting like true followers of Jesus Christ.”
What would have happened if Joseph Smith wondered for the rest of his life which church was true, but never went into a secluded grove to pray about it?
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Gary Lawrence is a public opinion pollster and author in Orange County, California.