Latter-day Saint Video Vault: “Act for Themselves” Teaches of Agency

Act for Themselves
A young man learns about agency from his alter ego in this 1993 Seminary classic.

Latter-day Saint Video Vault celebrates decades of uplifting, funny, weird, and sometimes cringe-worthy Mormon-related videos, most of which are now found on YouTube.

This week we enjoy another Seminary classic. Act for Themselves was produced by the Church Educational system in 1993 as Video Lesson 4 for the Book of Mormon to go along with 2 Nephi 2. Both the video and discussion guide/lesson are available on the church website.

Act for Themselves begins as Mike has an argument with his mother. He wants to go to some event, but his mother says no. She says Mike knows the rules so he knows why he can’t go. Mike storms into his room and begins throwing his stuff around.

“Some home! Feels like a prison. Whatever happened to free agency? What a joke. These rules take away my freedom!”

He huffs around his room complaining about his lack of choices. Exasperated he throws his jacket across the room and turns around, only to have his own jacket thrown on his head.

“You can keep it.” someone replies.

He turns around to see himself—an alter ego we will call Mike 2. Mike 2 tries to reason with him and help him realize Mike has more choices than he thinks. Mike 2 talks to him about a recent seminary lesson where Mike 2 was listening, but apparently Mike was not. I guess Mike 2 is his more attentive, focused and mature alter ego.

Mike 2 helps him remember a recent lesson about agency. Mike keeps calling it free agency, but Mike 2 reminds him that “free agency” is not a scriptural term. He draws a simple chart with the word “agency” on the left and two branches coming off of it labeled “freedom” and “captivity.” Mike 2 says we have agency to make right and wrong choices, but Mike disagrees. He crosses off “agency” and writes it over “freedom.”

“Agency is the freedom to do whatever I want!”

To help make a point Mike 2 snaps his fingers. The walls of disappear and Mike’s room becomes sort of other-worldy void and Mike shoots up into the air with no ability to control his movement.

Mike explains there are 4 things that make up agency:

  1. Power to choose
  2. Opposition in all things
  3. Laws
  4. Knowledge of good and evil

For number 1, Mike 2 asks Mike if he enjoys floating with no ability to affect change. Mike doesn’t like it but fails to understand the concept. So Mike 2 drops him through the floor leaving a Wile E. Coyote style outline in the floor. Apparently this alter ego has phenomenal cosmic power. He also seems to be on top of things. Why wouldn’t Mike want to be Mike 2 all the time?  Mike 2 was trying to make a point, that without the power to choose you really can’t do anything.

Mike 2 quickly discusses number 2. Opposition in all things provides us the pull in different directions and creates a range of choices.

Mike 2 then moves on. He points to a poster of a Ferrari on the wall.

“You’ve always wanted to drive that car, right?”

Mike 2 snaps his fingers and suddenly they are sitting in a Ferrari and facing a 55 mph speed limit sign and a police officer anxious to write a ticket. Mike is furious. He has his dream car and a 55 mph speed limit?

“Rules are dumb, right?” Mike 2 says.

He snaps his fingers again and the speed limit and police officer disappear. Mike speeds down the road—blowing past mailboxes and a hitchhiker. A truck approaches and pulls in to Mike’s lane. An accident is imminent and Mike 2 quickly snaps them back to reality. Mike complains the truck was in his lane, but Mike 2 reminds him there was no law so no one did anything wrong. Mike wasn’t speeding, and anyone could pick any lane. Mike 2 segues into principle 3: Laws. There must be laws to designate what is right and wrong and set the standard.

Mike 2 asks Mike if he has had enough, but Mike wants to finish the lesson so his room and floor can hopefully be restored to normal. Mike 2 suggests he check his closet. Mike pushes aside the clothes to reveal a long hallway with infinite doorways. Mike 2 asks him to pick any door, but Mike gets a shock. Mike 2 encourages him to try again and Mike gets shocked again!

“You want to know why you keep getting shocked? You probably want to know which doors are good. That’s what the knowledge of good and evil does.”

As we move into principle 4, Mike 2 says he could always revert to trial and error, but Mike just wishes there could be someone who would tell him what to do.

“Why won’t someone just tell me?!”

“Like Mom?”

Mike doesn’t appreciate the call back to his earlier argument, but Mike 2 goes on to tell him there are various sources that teach the difference between good and evil. Parents, scriptures, church leaders and the spirit can all help. Mike 2 then takes pity on Mike and tells him to open the doors with green frames for something good. Mike gives it a try and a pacific islander gives him a lei and a tropical strawberry drink. As he enjoys his beverage a yellow (bad) door opens and some kids going to a party move from one yellow door to another. Mike 2 follows the party to the door and is shocked when he is actually shocked?

Mike says that isn’t fair, but Mike 2 says he knew what would happen and asked why Mike chose wrong when he knew it was wrong? Mike steps away and looks thoughtful. He says the party looked fun, and there was a cute girl.

Mike 2 agrees about the fun and the girl, but reminds him that opposition gives choices, but knowledge of good and evil helps you make the choice.

“You used the party to get me to the wrong door. You tricked me on purpose!”

Mike is still not catching on to the point of all this. Mike 2 said that’s exactly the point. Satan disguises the captivity of wrong choices by hiding consequences. Seeing beyond the enticements to the captivity is the hard part.

Mike 2 reminds him of the time they cheated in class. He talks to mike about captivity but Mike said they were never caught. Mike 2 mentions their captivity was the loss of the spirit and guilt they felt as a result of cheating.

Mike recognizes he has a lot of changing to do. Mike 2 encourages him and says they are in a great place. They have a lot of the freedom because of the choices they have made so far. They have the 4 elements of agency and can use them to make better choices in the future.

Mike ruffles Mike 2’s hair and decides he isn’t so bad after all. Mike suggest they go explain this agency lesson to mom and they exit through a door marked “slightly better times ahead.”

I’ve watched a lot of church films and I think the late 80s and early 90s were really a “golden age” for CES and church videos. This is the era of The Prodigal Son  and On the Way Home, after all I separate church and CES as CES kept most of its videos out of general circulation so they could remain special for Seminary and have a longer shelf life. Act for Themselves is a great film. It explains the principle of agency in a fun but clear way without being preachy.

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