Personal Musings of a Latter-day Saint with Asperger's Syndrome

Passivity and Agency

For some time now, I’ve become more aware of a weakness which has pretty much dominated my life ever since I can remember. It’s one which I find I have to battle every day, one which is so easy to give in to and difficult to conquer that I wonder if I can even find the strength to do so.

That weakness is passivity.

I suppose that it may have a certain genetic component; on the other hand, it may be a learned behavior as well. I do know that my mother has the same weakness (perhaps to a greater extent than I do), and in manifested in her father as well—though I don’t know if it was just on the surface, or if it went deeper. All I know is that it has been with me for so long that it almost seems how I am.

Perhaps it is an element of my overly sensitive temperament. Perhaps it results from my poor coordination/balance/depth perception, which prevented me from being involved in any kind of athletics. Or it may accompany my preference for solitary activity (reading, writing, art, etc.).

Whatever its source, it has been with me for far too long, and I see how it has been holding me back in life. The question is, should I just accept that this is ”just how I am”, or should I work to either minimize its effects or eradicate it altogether? It’s going to be a massive challenge, because I have accepted for so long that it is “how I am”, and I have even thought that it is “how God made me”. Perhaps God wants me to be passive so as not to rely on my own strength. It may be that I need this weakness to humble me so as not to become so confident in myself that I succumb to pride. But surely, there must be a happy balance between the two extremes—where I am able to act for myself, without throwing God under the bus. (Not that there’s much likelihood of that happening.)

Come to think of it, I suspect that I have felt overpowered by others (and disempowered myself) for so long, that I feel that there is no option other than to give in to “the way things are”. At the same time, that gets me into the deep waters of God’s will versus my own agency. What am I responsible to do? What is God responsible to do? When am I to say, “Father, thy will be done”, and when am I to act for myself to make things better? When do I engage in passive submission, and when do I engage in active obedience? There are so many factors at play that I hardly know where to start. Do I go ahead and determine my own course as if God doesn’t exist, or to I sit and wait to learn God’s will?

It’s pretty clear from the above that I need to study the doctrine of agency more than I have. I’d always taken it for granted as something that was always “there”, but I hadn’t given it much thought. What does it mean to be an “agent unto myself”? Is the statement that we are made to act and not be acted upon prescriptive (we should act without being acted upon), or is it descriptive (we do act rather than being acted upon—for example, we pick up objects; objects to not pick us up)?

Or maybe I’m overthinking it.  Perhaps I’m asking all of these questions because I’m not astute enough to know what actions to take in the first place, and I’m trying to justify myself.


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Hugh Nibley [off the record]

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