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73. How Autonomous Are You?

Autonomy is highly valued in modern society. When I ask a client what they want in a job, autonomy is nearly always up there with good colleagues and making a difference. But even when we think we are autonomous, how autonomous are we really? This week's tip explores. We know a couple who have been stalwarts of the Labour Party for many years. He was an MP once, she has run the local ward meetings for as long as anyone can remember. They campaign during elections, they cater for party events, they leaflet-drop, they fund-raise, they counsel the councillors, they advise the MP. They are committed socialists. A few months ago I met their son. He's a hedge fund manager. 'Wow,' I said, when he told me, and of course he knew what I was thinking. 'It was so rammed down our throats when we were growing up,' he said, 'the whole Labour Party thing. I just had to get away and do something different.' Like any of us who have decided to do something different from our parents, it was clear that he felt that becoming a hedge fund manager was an act of self-determination, of autonomy. But is it really any more autonomous to decide to go against your parents as it is to go with them? Both are reactions to, and therefore determined by, your parents. Originating from the Greek 'auto' meaning self, and 'nomos' meaning law, the word autonomy is defined as the capacity of a rational individual to make an informed, un-coerced decision. Is it rational to base a decision on your career on your parent's values? If you want to please or displease them, then yes. If you want to find a career that pleases you, perhaps not. And could such a decision be described as 'un-coerced'? Here's another example. My yoga teacher decided, when The King's Speech came out, that she would not go and see it. 'I hate these films that are hyped so much,' she said, 'I never go to them.' Again, I'm pretty sure that she felt this decision was an act of autonomy. Did these media people really think she was so stupid as to fall for all that hype? As a result she missed a rather good film which I can't help thinking she would have enjoyed. It's easy to think that you wouldn't do anything so silly as choose a career simply to annoy your parents, or refuse to see a film just because everyone else was seeing it, but the humbling truth is that many of our decisions are more to do with our reactions than they are to do with autonomy. Because many of these reactions are rooted in our childhood, when we had neither the life experience nor the cognitive development to evaluate them, they live on in us unquestioned. Try this: 1. Think about things in your life that you make decisions, or have views, about. There are the bigger things like how you raise and educate your children, where you choose to live, who you choose to marry or live with, your career, your political persuasions, your spiritual beliefs. There are the smaller, everyday things, like how fast you drive in a 30 mph zone, how you dispose of your rubbish, how you stack your dishwasher, what you feed your pets, which washing up liquid you buy. 2. Of these things, which do you do against the grain? If your parents voted conservative, do you now vote Socialist Worker? If you grew up in the suburbs, do you now live in the middle of a city? If your council say you have to recycle, do you do take small pleasures in failing to put things in the right bin? Do you refuse to be coerced into buying brand products, determinedly buying 'basics'? Do you drive over the speed limit, and then slow down for the cameras? 3. If you were to make informed, un-coerced, decisions about these things, would they be the same? Have an autonomous week! Anita

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