Ahh how sweet it is!!

Ahh how sweet it is!! That is how I tend to sum up my life in a few words. Plain and simple, life is wonderful! This site will give you just a sneak peak at my thoughts throughout my life. Love, Mel

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Location: Bountiful, Utah, United States

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Self Control & Child Rearing

Self Control & Child Rearing

(Maybe Someone Can Make You Angry Without Your Permission)

At first I resisted Dr. Bergin’s notions because of my long-standing mental model (acquired) that anger and all other unhealthy feelings, with their attendant behaviors are under one’s control. I still believe this is so—albeit, with healthy adults. I must confess, however, that perhaps few of us are totally healthy. I am particularly intrigued by his thoughts on child rearing and accountability from an eternal perspective.

Note: Dr. Bergin is a professor of psychology at BYU and a therapist. He is involved in many church related programs designed to improve people’s abilities to function. The following are excerpts from his article: (Toward a Theory of Human Agency Fn by Allen E. Bergin Fn, BYU Studies, vol. 16 (1975-1976), Number 1 - Autumn 1975 165.) The full text can be found on GospeLink if you are interested.


Self-control would not be a matter for scrutiny if it were not for the pervasiveness of its opposite, namely, a lack or loss of self-control. Today, we are often taught and we too often act as though everything controls our behavior except the self or the conscious will. Within the LDS Church this is less often so, but then we are too often guilty of the reverse error, that is, assuming that people are always 100 percent responsible for their own acts.

I thus find myself the man in the middle--trying to persuade my professional colleagues that there is such a thing as self-control while at the same time attempting to convince my fellow Saints that human agency has limitations and, in some cases, is nonexistent.

All human acts are determined by multiple influences. We may identify six broad classes of influence as: (1) cultural, social or environmental controls; (2) biological factors; (3) habits of response that have been conditioned, especially by childhood experiences; (4) feelings or emotions; (5) thoughts, ideas, or beliefs; and (6) spiritual inspiration.

If we are to be wise, receive the truth, and take the Holy Spirit for our guide as suggested in D&C 45:57, we must learn to optimize the influence of higher processes in our actions. Otherwise, we lose our power of independent action and are "encircled about by the bands of death, and the chains of hell" (Alma 5:7) and then "are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction." (Alma 12:11.)

Our degree of control varies between 0 and 100 percent. Some people have much more control than others. Within the same person, the degree of control also varies in different situations. In one area, say eating, one may have low control while in another, say anger, he may have high control.

Willful or conscious disobedience to moral laws is a misuse of agency; for each such act a measure of agency is lost, and one gradually succumbs to the power of habitual sin. The scriptural reference is "being in the bondage of Satan."

It may seem heretical to propose that for some of mankind agency is extremely limited or nonexistent, but I submit that the processes and examples I have given are based upon valid observations of a worsening human condition and that they are scripturally confirmed as well. I have already cited several scriptural references to this effect and add here the following supporting views:

Brigham Young asserted his views on willful disobedience to God's laws:

A man can dispose of his agency or of his birthright, as did Esau of old, but when disposed of he cannot again obtain it--those who despise the proffered mercies of the Lord . . . have their agency abridged immediately and bounds and limits are set upon their operations . . . evil, when listened to, begins to rule and overrule the spirit God has placed within man. (Cited in Widtsoe, 1954, pp. 63, 65).

Talmage noted that in the Judgment the various forces that can limit agency will be taken into account in evaluating one's life on earth: The inborn tendencies due to heredity, the effect of environment whether conducive to good or evil, the wholesome teaching of youth, the absence of good instruction--these and all other contributory elements must be taken into account in the rendering of a just verdict as to the soul's guilt or innocence. (Talmage, 1915, p. 29).

In reply to the question of why God has caused civilizations to be destroyed, it may be asserted that the Lord's actions were acts of mercy in that these nations or peoples had become so wicked that the children growing up among them had no possibility of developing true agency. Their only opportunity was to choose evil and perpetuate it; therefore, they were destroyed. In support of this Joseph Fielding Smith (1960, p.55) cites the following comment by John Taylor in his book, The Government of God (p.53):

Hence it was better to destroy a few individuals, than to entail misery on many. And hence the inhabitants of the old world and of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, because it was better for them to die, and thus be deprived of their agency, which they abused, than entail so much misery on their posterity, and bring ruin upon millions of unborn persons.

Further evidence that agency can theoretically be entirely lost is that Satan's plan was a real possibility. This must mean that under the right conditions it is possible to totally control human behavior. We know that men can come under the bondage of sin if they choose evil. To the extent that they do they are under Satan's power, and his plan is implemented to that degree, albeit in the opposite direction of his original proposal. It should be noted here that when we speak of Satan's control we do not necessarily mean that he or his assistants are personally present or directly involved, for he must operate through lawful processes just as the Lord himself does. The loss of one's agency may thus mean that Satan has obtained control over a person by the management of natural processes which the person willfully permitted himself to get hooked into, or which he was conditioned into during childhood.

WOW!!!! A final evidence that agency can be severely limited and that this can occur without the person himself making wrong choices is indicated by our knowledge that child-rearing events can shape future responses so powerfully as to virtually eliminate personal responsibility. This is supported by scriptures which declare that small children are not responsible for their acts and cannot be held accountable for them and that if parents do not properly teach them, the eventual sin is put upon the heads of the parents. If the parents are responsible, they must have instituted negative control over the child's behaviour--control with long-lasting effects. It is interesting that no such parental control is implied in relation to positive behavior. This is logical in that positive child rearing induces agency, that is, self-control in the child; whereas negative child rearing induces the bondage of Satan which eliminates choice unless there is outside intervention. There are numerous scriptures supporting this view. (D&C 29:47; D&C 68:25; D&C 74:4; D&C 93:39.) One of the more interesting is Deut. 5:9: ". . . for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me." Joseph Fielding Smith interpreted this as follows: "The real meaning of this visiting of the iniquity is that when a man transgresses he teaches his children to transgress, and they follow his teachings. It is natural for children to follow in the practices of their fathers and by doing so suffer from the parents' iniquity. . . . (1957, p.83) The term natural in the foregoing sentence probably can be interpreted as natural psychological processes, such as imitative learning, conditioning, and repression.

(Toward a Theory of Human Agency Fn by Allen E. Bergin Fn, BYU Studies, vol. 16 (1975-1976), Number 1 - Autumn 1975 170.)

I have been convinced by many years of experience that every human being suffers defects of agency and control to some degree and that in a minority of cases the level of control has been so seriously reduced by biological defects or malignant childhood training that they are, in effect, not responsible for their behavior. I am not speaking here of the normal cross-section of human weaknesses, even though they limit agency to some degree; because if we had perfect agency, it is doubtful that this life would be a test for us. Certainly, no one should be encouraged by these remarks to justify his misdeeds on the grounds that he is not responsible for his behavior. Our goal should be to resist the history of evil, to reverse the sins of our fathers, and to initiate a benign cycle that will traverse the generations and help people establish new levels of self-regulation. There is nothing more pitiful than the person who wants to control his behavior but is unable to do so. Such individuals are buffeted by their own fears and impulses; their behavior is dominated by Satan. In such instances self-effort alone will not suffice.

Another way to describe the results of the self-control method is nicely exemplified by President McKay's advice: "Resist temptation and Satan will flee from you." He declared that this is exactly what happened during the Savior's three great temptations. According to President McKay, because of the Savior's resistance Satan's power had been broken by the time of the final temptation, and he was merely pleading. Then the Savior turned his back on Satan with finality and commanded him to get hence.

Such insight led the Prophet to declare eloquently: "The greatest battles of life are fought within the silent clambers of our own souls." This is the battle for self-control, and there is nothing more majestic than the quiet confidence of one who has achieved it.

Our thesis is that when a person consciously selects a behavioral goal and then finds his pathway to that goal obstructed by habits, impulses, or feelings over which he has little control, he can overcome these obstacles by the exercise of self-effort. Technically it may be stated thus: The power of a consciously perceived stimulus to evoke an undesired response is directly proportional to the frequency with which the undesired response occurs. [Mel Note: In other words, if you quit doing bad stuff you will soon lose the urge to do bad stuff].

A corollary hypothesis is that stimuli early in the chain of behavior will evoke a weaker response and that responses of that order will be more readily inhibited than those of a higher order. If inhibition occurs more frequently at that level, breaking of the main, over-arching stimulus-response connection will be more frequent and more successful. [Mel Note: In simple terms, quit doing the bad stuff ASAP!]

The first quality of self-control is that it consists of voluntary action, and voluntary behavior require a choice situation in which at least two incompatible acts are possible. The scriptures tell us that if there were no opposition, no law of opposites, there could be no agency. "And it must needs be that the devil tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves." (D&C 29:39.)

As always your thoughts are appreciated—Dad


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