What is Autonomy?

It is very easy to misunderstand the true nature and essence of autonomy. One of the main reasons for this misconception is the manner in which autonomy materializes. Take for example the well known idiom; too many cooks spoil the broth. Chances are that one cook will situate his wok on a separate stove and start to work independently. Fifty percent of the onlookers are likely to perceive this behavior as the desire to work independently, whereas others might see it as an unfriendly maneuver. It is the latter group that is the trouble maker.

Autonomy in truest and purest form is the condition and desire to work independently. This does not indicate that an individual is not a team player or will fail to cooperate with others; rather it just shows the desire for freedom. It is seen in a bad light as it helps a person grow and reach new heights without anyone’s assistance. In other terms, everyone would want to add a flavor of their preference to your broth as they would like to share a tiny bit of credit for a delicious meal.

Psychological Perspective on Autonomy

Erik Erikson, a well renowned psychologist, put forward his psychosocial theory for development. Under the theory are eight stages that indicate the human development from birth till old age. The theory states that each individual faces challenges at almost every stage of life. These challenges are embedded in two conflicting forces and the individual is required to solve the crisis for each stage. Upon successful resolution, virtue of that particular stage is attained and the next stage in the process is successfully entered.

The game of autonomy is played in every individual’s life at the age of about 18 months to 3 years. Indeed, these toddlers face the crisis of ‘autonomy’ against ‘shame and doubt’. In simple words, with whatever actions that are undertaken by a toddler and the responses they receive from the care givers, siblings etc, they either move towards developing a sense of autonomy or fall deep into the pit of shame and doubt. If they gain a sense of autonomy, they gain the ‘will’ to be autonomous.

Case Study

Here is a brief explanation of the value of independence and the act of exploring at the early stages of life:

Sam is a 2 year old who does not have any siblings. He enjoys watching cartoons and playing with action figures. Whenever he is out in the garden and tries to pick up a caterpillar to feel it crawl on his hand, his mother, Kristin would send a discouraging remark. Additionally, whenever Sam would try to examine a rock and feel its texture, Kristin would again interrupt. Slowly and gradually, Sam started to spend time in the garden sitting in his sand box and keeping himself limited to the action figures.

In the aforementioned case study it is evident that some part of Sam’s creativity was crushed by the discouraging remarks of his mother. Exploring new things and experiencing different elements brought him thrill and excitement. Additionally, it is true that exploration helps build neurons for developing children. Sam must have started to doubt himself and feel ashamed whenever he would plan on trying something new, hence losing his will to be independent and explorative.

Autonomy for Adults

The practice of encouraging toddlers and helping them learn and grow in a healthy fashion is important. Although it is true that autonomy has its origins in the early years of life, it does not mean that Sam will fail to be autonomous for the rest of his life. He can fight and find his way to develop a sense of self government. However, this time the discouraging remarks will be coming in from society.

Importance of Autonomy

Autonomy has a great amount of value in different walks of life. Political autonomy, personal autonomy, workplace autonomy etc are all essentials of life. A research conducted in 2003 indicated that perceived job autonomy led to greater satisfaction at work. It is considered to be a significant factor and holds as much importance as job security, pay, fringe benefits etc.

Autonomy holds a great deal of importance because of how it can make an individual feel. It can lead to a great amount of happiness and can give a sense of accomplishment. Let’s go back to the example of the cook who will handle his own broth. Knowing that he has to handle the wok on his own he will work harder to succeed. If he succeeds at the task, he is likely to feel a sense of achievement for work that is purely his. If he fails, he will look for mistakes in the work or set up another wok and start from scratch.

Autonomy and Happiness

There are several reasons why autonomy makes us happy. Here is a list of the reasons that autonomous individuals will appreciate:

  • Being autonomous is not easy. Every individual working independently is not likely to succeed. Autonomy is for individuals who can take on the blame if something goes wrong. It is easy to take credit but definitely difficult to say that ‘’I have made a mistake.’’ Only people with a great sense of self will learn from their mistakes and gain a sense of happiness from their work.
  • Autonomy is a source of thrill for those who like taking challenges. The idea of expanding ones horizons is understood well by individuals who like working independently. They have a thirst for more knowledge and learning and are classified as intellectually curious. Those who like playing safe will always find shelter in following the footsteps of others.
  • Being innovative is another benefit that can be attained when one prefers to work independently. It’s almost like being in a forest without any map and facing the challenge of finding the way out. It helps cultivate innovative skills and is a great tool for self exploration.

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