Autonomy Anyone?

By Chris Chittenden

"I think there's great potential for autonomy, but we have to remember that we live in a world where people may have free will but have not invented their circumstances.”

… Thomas Frank (b. 1965) American author

This month we continue our series of five articles on what we term our 'core concerns'. These core concerns speak to what is centrally important to us and we have a basic need to take care of them. We move away from a perceived threat to these concerns or move towards opportunities that we assess may enhance them. These core concerns also underpin many of our stronger emotional responses and the associated habitual actions these emotions predispose.

Last edition we looked at the role of certainty. This time we will focus on our concern for autonomy; a concern that is often closely tied to certainty.

Autonomy can be simply seen as the capacity to author our own life. It is directly linked to the linguistic action of declaration, which often appear as our choices, and speaks to the authority we take and that is given us to enact our declarations. Autonomy also reflects a desire for a degree of independence and the right to choose the life we lead.

This need to author our own life is linked to the need for certainty through the ideas of control and influence. In the ontological work, control is seen as being able to enact our decisions without the need for anyone's validation. The domain of influence refers to the authority given by others and how they allow us to impact their futures. Some seek certainty through an attempt to control others, however this holds a potential trap in the damage that can be done to our relationships. Our need for independence and relationship is always in tension with the same needs in others. I have defined this as the authority dynamic which lies at the heart of our relationships with others.

Our story about our capacity to author our own life plays a significant role in how we create our self-story. It directly speaks to our validity as a human being. If others constantly seek to direct our life then it is difficult to see that we are capable of doing so ourselves. Often this results in our sense of self being diminished.

A strong need for autonomy, status or certainty is often a key motivator for those seeking leadership roles. However, the extent to which these needs compare to the needs of relatedness and fairness will show up in the style of leader. When one or more of autonomy, status or certainty are too predominant in a leader then we are likely to find an aggressive leadership style that diminishes of any constructiveness in the community or organisation they lead. As in all aspects of life, there is a need for balance.

Next edition, we will focus on the core concern of relatedness.

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© 2016 Chris Chittenden