This is a continuation of the discussion that began here. You might want to read it first.
Sometimes we need to gently discuss the concept of agency with our children. (and by gently discussing I mean no hands around necks and no screaming.) When we do, we often make things confusing by mixing up words and concepts that make it more difficult to communicate. So, today I will attempt to define some words and draw some distinctions.
Will: Our desires.
Free Agency/Agency/Moral Agency: The ability to make choices. "Free independence of mind which heaven has so graciously bestowed upon the human family as one of its choicest gifts" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 49).
The term "free agency" was very common throughout the 70s and 80s, but began falling out of favor in the 90s, with the idea of "moral agency" moving forward. It is OK to use the term according to Elder Christofferson. They are essentially interchangeable. So w
e'll run with plain old "Agency".
Dad Agency: The ability for Dad to do things that the kids cannot do. (Eating in the living room, for example)
Freedom: The ability to act on our agency.
OK, enough vocabulary, time for a scenario: (Remember, we already established that we cannot take away someone’s agency.)
Just for a ridiculously hypothetical discussion, let’s say I have a teenage son (FOML #2) who hates his job of mowing the lawn. He thinks it is a dumb process, because it will just grow back. He chooses not to do it. That is his choice. His will. His agency. It is impossible for me to take that away. I can’t imagine a way that I could physically force a boy to mow the lawn. I have tried, and they always end up at Urgent Care. ;)
However...as a result of his poor use of agency, I can curtail his freedom. Boom! You are grounded until you mow the lawn. He still has his agency intact, and the lawn keeps growing.
Eventually, he will want to talk:
#2: Dad, you are taking away my agency by forcing me to mow the lawn.
Me: Nope. Your agency is intact. I'm not forcing you to do anything. You can continue to choose not to. I am taking away your freedom until you change your mind. There is a difference.
#2: Then you are taking away my agency because you won’t let me go hang out tonight.
Me: No, I can’t take away your agency - President Packer said. Theoretically, you could exercise your agency and sneak out the window to go hang out.
#2: Yeah, like I’m going to do that.
Me: Why not?
#2: Because I would be grounded forever.
Me: Exactly. You would lose even more freedom. So quit telling me I’m taking away your agency. I can’t, and I’m not. But as your parent I can mess with your freedom as I see fit.
#2: But that’s not fair.
Me: Son, I love you, and you need to learn how to work, and obey. Besides fairness is overrated.
#2: (walking away) "Mom! Dad is taking away my freedom!"
So the discussion becomes about freedom, not about agency. And we all understand that all of us exchange agency for freedom all the time. (Traffic laws, IRS etc.)
At this moment, there is absolutely nothing I can do to create a desire in my son to mow the lawn. He may never desire to do it, but eventually, he will choose to do it in order to recoup his lost freedom. He will eventually bend his will, and voluntarily sacrifice his agency.
Often as parents we get all mushy and end up caving in, and restore the freedoms prematurely. The lesson taught is that if you refuse to bend your will, there are no lasting consequences. I fail on this part all the time. Other parents entirely avoid the process by never expecting their children to do anything. It’s much easier to “punt”.
- This is one man’s opinion. What is yours?
Next step: Agency and Consequence
Two great things to read regarding this process are:
"Man’s Search for Meaning" by Vicktor Frankl - one of the great examples of how almost all freedom can be taken away, yet one's will and agency remains intact. . http://www.amazon.com/Mans-Search-Meaning-Viktor-Frankl/dp/0807014273