I briefly touched on the harmful impact autonomy has on an individual in the first post of this series, but I’d like to elucidate further. First of all, it is important to break down the meaning of autonomy and apply it in a culturally relevant manner. To be autonomous is to be self-governed or independent under a set of relative moral guidelines. In other words, “Every man for himself.” In the scientific community, I think Herbert Spencer’s evolutionary theory of natural selection, or “Survival of the Fittest,” best describes autonomy. In many ways, our society views success and happiness in this way.
But what happens when we find out that we aren’t the fastest, smartest, prettiest, or wealthiest in the food chain? Where does our identity lie when our autonomy fails us? We all reach a point some time or another when we think, “All my gifts and all my efforts must sure add up to something!” (Nathan Partain, I Need Jesus). But when they don’t, then what? If you find worth in your ability to play basketball for example, what do you do with your life when you find out from the doctor that you’ve lost your ability to walk? Or if you’re a mother of four diagnosed with a fatal disease, so you won’t get to watch your children grow into adults or even see your grandchildren? Or your wife of twelve years looks at you one day and says, “You know… I love you, but I’m not in love with you anymore. I want a divorce.” The truth is sobering, especially in a world that tells us that we should do everything on our own. People always leave, and the world is a broken place. We fail others, we fail ourselves, and others fail us. Perfection is impossible and autonomy is lonely.
Autonomy naturally encourages isolation, which is a dangerous thing. Humanity sees isolation as a method of weeding out the pain and disappointment we tend to blame others for. I don’t think it’s that far of a stretch to say that isolation is a form of perfectionism on some level. We try to control who hurts us and when, but in reality autonomy damages ourselves the most; it doesn’t take into account the importance of community. People often develop a strong sense of belonging when connected by relationships with others based on love, trust, and support. We learn our own needs by knowing when to ask for help, and more importantly we exchange that help when someone else is in need. Building community leads to healing, growing, serving, loving, and learning– all of which are vital in curing an identity crisis. When we push ourselves away and decide that it’s every man for himself, we are spitting in the face of Truth. The cure for everything is in our hand, yet we destroy every last drop. Autonomy rejects serving, loving, healing, learning, and growing. By choosing isolation, we are left with two outcomes: static growth or degeneration. How can we find our identities if we never change or if we self-destruct? Autonomy is a coward, and it feeds on our fears, insecurities, and most of all, shame. If this is the grand plan for attaining success and happiness, then I quit. The only way to break the cycle of autonomy’s damaging grip on an identity crisis is to face adversity in community with others.