Tuesday, May 13, 2014

What Would I Do (WWID)?

When facing a difficult decision, millions of Christians around the world have rightly learned to ask the steering question, 'What would Jesus do?' The answer to that question sheds light on any scenario as we strive to act with the compassion, courage and wisdom of our Great Exemplar. In our efforts to follow our Savior and act righteously, we may also benefit from asking the often overlooked companion question: What would I do?

This question is not meant to be blasphemous nor elevate your own opinions to conceit and the kind of pride that rationalizes sin and blinds us to our own faults. The life of Christ remains the standard to which all of us must aspire. Rather, this question echoes the advice Karl Maeser once gave to a young J. Golden Kimball to 'Always be yourself; but always be your better self.' Let me explain.

Steven Covey's 7 Habits is one of dozens of books that have briefly summarized the basic research of maturity with the simple, three-step model of dependence, independence, and interdependence. This is easy enough to understand-- when we're kids we depend on our parents to meet our needs, then one day we set out on our own, and ideally we end up learning we can do more working together with a spouse, coworkers and others than any of us could ever accomplish working separately.

It's important to note that maturity must be a progression. We cannot function properly in a marriage relationship if we have never learned to be independent, for example. Trading dependence on parents for dependence on a spouse only is hardly a recipe for a successful relationship, regardless of whether that dependence is physical, emotional, financial or otherwise. We may accomplish a stage of maturity in a very brief period, even seconds, but we must experience each stage to progress to the next.

The end goal for our maturity is interdependence, which requires two or more independent parties to work toward a common goal by acting with complete trust in a partner or colleague. Under the Law of Consecration, the saints chose to give all of their income for the needs of the community as a whole. Handing over your whole paycheck with no guarantees requires immense belief in the integrity and character of the other participants; yet, if everyone participates, the principles of economics predict that the community will produce more than the sum of what the individuals produced before consecration and all are insured against disability, unemployment, and other such personal tragedies. Similarly, when we give our whole hearts to our spouse we expose ourselves to hurt and disappointment, but through coordinated effort and complete trust we make possible greater happiness (and ultra-romantic economic efficiencies) than either of us could have alone.

Examples of other successful interdependent relationships abound. When Dell and Intel agree to work together on a computer, each faces the risk of significant losses if the other party is unable to deliver on their contractual agreement; yet, when they go to work with full faith in each other they co-manufacture computers with rapidly advancing technology in significantly less time than if each were attempting to produce all of the computer on their own. It's the same when neighboring communities work together to deliver 911 services or when Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg contribute their talents along with a larger cast and crew to make a movie. When two independent individuals voluntarily decide to work together toward a common goal, relying in whole or in part on another person for their support, interdependence happens-- and the results exceed the sum of the parts.

Each of us are complex creatures with varying maturity in different areas of our lives. We don't have to be living with our parents to be emotionally, socially, or fiscally immature; nor does our immaturity in any one area of our lives guarantee that we are not enjoying the benefits of independence or interdependence in another area. To make things even more complex, our maturity may slide up or down the maturity continuum from day to day. Returning missionaries with testimonies of their own often face the choice of building their faith by associating with those who will strengthen and be strengthened by them or depending on the faith (or doubts) of others.

The point here is that as we mature in the gospel, as with anything else, we will find the greatest benefit when we become interdependent with others. When we are baptized, we covenant to take upon ourselves the name of Christ just as a new bride takes the name of her husband. In so doing, we pledge to rely on Him for salvation from our sins and He asks that we do all we can to live righteously and spread the gospel. It doesn't matter that He is better at all those things than we are any more than it matters that a lawyer and a farmer may both be living the law of consecration at the same time; if we have a testimony and are doing good on our own, the result of the interdependent relationship we have entered by covenant will be just as advantageous to us spiritually as the cooperation of Dell and Intel is profitable.

Hopefully our second question is now all but obvious. Interdependent relationships require two or more independent individuals working toward a common goal. If we are to reap the benefits of an interdependent relationship with Christ, we must also be using our agency to take independent action toward our common goals of immortality and eternal life. Neither prayer without action nor action without prayer are sufficient; it is through prayer that we unify our goals with His and through action that we can realize those goals.

In the Lord's words:

It is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward. But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned (D&C 58:26-29).

So, if you are an agent unto yourself and free to choose your actions, and knowing that the greatest benefit will always come through interdependent relationships, particularly such a relationship with the same Christ that can forgive sin and empower us to do all things, it follows that once we consider the example of Christ we must also inquire of our own agency and ability, 'What would I do?'

In contemplating what you or I could do that would be of greatest benefit, we do well to remember another mastery scripture from the teachings of King Benjamin:

And even I, myself, have labored with mine own hands that I might serve you, and that ye should not be laden with taxes, and that there should nothing come upon you which was grievous to be borne—and of all these things which I have spoken, ye yourselves are witnesses this day. Yet, my brethren, I have not done these things that I might boast... for I have only been in the service of God. And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God...[A]nd if I, whom ye call your king, do labor to serve you, then ought not ye to labor to serve one another? (Mosiah 2:14-18)

As we face difficult decisions, there is much we can learn from asking, 'What would Jesus do?' Completing the question we've worked on with advice from King Benjamin, we may also benefit from asking the companion question, 'What would I do if Christ were here?' In the service we render as accountants, bus drivers, school volunteers, policymakers, salespersons, entertainers, home teachers, or whatever else, do we treat others as though we are delivering the service to Christ? If we manage others, do we develop policies that direct our subordinates to treat all people as you would want them to treat the Savior? Do we treat our own kids with the same dignity and respect?

We will achieve the impossible if we labor independently and collectively toward our common goals, trusting in each other and in our Savior to complement our efforts. We will be resurrected from the dead and inherit all that God has. So ask yourself, 'What would I do?' and get to work.