Autonomy Anonymous

I’m thinking in circles. So, I am going to do what I always do when I’m thinking in circles: I’ll write.  You, gentle blog reader, are in for a wild ride, because this is going to be dense. Possibly incomprehensible.

One of the basic human needs is autonomy – a clear and separate definition of the Self as an individual.  As you know, I’m an introvert. I spend a lot of time by myself in deep thought and contemplation, I read, I write, I sing dumb songs into the silence. I long for the woods.

 If an introvert falls in the woods and no one is there to hear her crash in the twigs, does she really fall?

That’s actually the crux of my thought-circles, because another of those needs is connection.  We need to understand our place in social hierarchies, know we are recognized as members of groups or family units, and understand our roles in society.

I’ve been a single introvert living alone before, and let me tell you, it gets ugly. For about six months it’s all basking in a hot-tub of solitude and sanctuary. Then it turns into desperately calling every name in your cell phone just to make sure the outside world still exists and people remember you’re alive.

This is what’s known as a relational dialectic.  A push-me-pull-you (see Doolittle image for reference) of balance and warring forms of self-interest (as well as apparently, never pooping).

I’m really trying to figure out how to get my inner llama to go in the right direction, but I’ve got to admit, I’m really confused by all of the psychology.  It’s all muddled inside my head.

What I’m going to do instead is use an extended metaphor, looking at a similar sort of thing in an area I actually understand: International Law.

These are the things that make a country a country:

    • Clear territorial boundaries
    • No requirement to answer to a higher authority than the government established within your territory (a concept called sovereignty)
    • Other nations recognize and acknowledge those boundaries and that ruler or government.

(Incidentally, sovereignty is a key component of what makes a country a country. Philosophically, if a country were to swear obedience to a higher power …like the UN… they would, in effect, be giving up their countryhood, thus negating the power and purpose of the UN. This mental loop-de-loop is what made me stop believing in Santa Claus. Thank you, Liberal Arts Education.)

 I think that this metaphor fairly clearly applies to the individual.

I have my definitions of Self – what I want to do, my personal space, my feelings of individuality and control over my environment, my ability to think for myself and generate my own opinions. Those are my borders. The rivers, oceans and mountains, the map-lines that follow latitudes and longitudes that are clearly marked.

I don’t have to answer to a higher authority than my Self, which is autonomy and agency at its core. (Though sometimes I might enter trade agreements where I will grant others authority over some of my actions, in exchange for imports and revenue. Interpersonal authority among adults is much more like treaty law than it is like colonialism – that’s parenting.)

I need other people to recognize me as a sovereign Self. I need them to respect my borders and territory – when I say it’s not okay to cross the River of Solitude, I need for them to establish trade agreements and regular shipping schedules down at the Bay of Maybe We’ll Hang Out.

Applying my Metaphor

Honestly, I’m going to have an easier time thinking of myself as the United Federation of Alicia than I will trying to assert my me-ness without the silly metaphor.

It’s hard for me to remember that nasty habit of people-pleasing doesn’t help me. (I have given away my GDP in the past, massive crops given over to causes championed by other States!)  But it might be easier for me to see people-pleasing as a treaty agreement. Needs and wants as caring for my populace, creative play as encouraging a rich unique culture and language.

As an introvert, I’m an isolationist. I’ve got a partial stake in one small stepson-colony, but really I’m fairly autonomous. I’ve entered a free-trade agreement with the husband’s neighboring nation, but I feel like I frequently have to remind him of the terms.

“No man is an island” takes on a whole new meaning, doesn’t it?  I think I can break down the misconceptions of self-sufficiency and social connections if I think about how countries have to apply the same lessons.

Wow, I’ve actually used that International Affairs degree for something!


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