Choosing Autonomy

When we first knew each other, Chris and I set out on a road trip to see his family. We got about halfway there–three hours in– before I realized that I had left my wallet and my cell phone behind.

The cell phone I could deal with. I could borrow Chris’s cell phone to check my voice mail and that would cover the bases.

But my wallet being gone freaked me out. Chris watched me with concern as I started to melt down. “Don’t worry. I can take care of anything we need.”

That didn’t relieve me. I felt the world shrink around me. I would have to wait on someone else if I wanted or needed anything.

He tried a different tack, “Think this through. What are you really missing?”


He asked how much it would take for me to feel like I had autonomy. I decided for this trip $40 would do it.

He gave me two twenties and I was safe again.

I trusted him, but I wanted to be sure that if I needed or wanted something I wouldn’t have to ask for it. I wanted the power to get it for myself.

I want to be the one working the levers and making the choices. I don’t want to need permission or assistance from anyone else. I want access to the choices. That’s autonomy, an environment where I can make whatever choices I want and even change my mind at the last minute.

I react pretty strongly when I perceive something encroaching upon my autonomy.
Unfortunately, I don’t always notice.

In his magnificent work The Constitution of Liberty, Hayek talks about how we have to have a range of choices in order to have liberty. If the sources of information I have are restricted, if they tell me only one side of a story, then I cannot make informed choices. Those who control the information are manipulating me into a limited choice.

Manipulation is not autonomy. It is coercion. It prevents me from making the choices that suit me best.

I get mad just thinking about it.

How dare someone else try to control me! I don’t want to be limited in my choices!

But as soon as I start to heat up I recognize an even more basic truth. There is another far more common way that my choices are limited.

I narrow my own options. I choke my imagination and restrict the possibilities.

So often I stick to what is known and what seems safe. I will get tunnel vision and not even realize there are other options.

They say that a rut is a grave with both ends kicked out. I get in ruts far to often.

The song says it well: Free your mind and the rest will follow. It is not something I can let up on.