What is personal sovereignty?
Each individual is the only legitimate source of authority for his/her choices, decisions, and actions. This means that the person is the only one who has the responsibility to decide what to do in their life, and what values, beliefs, and opinions to adopt.
How does this statement make you feel? What do you think about this statement? What does it mean in your life?
Respecting personal sovereignty
Respecting our own personal sovereignty means independently examining and consciously choosing which ideas, claims, norms, rules, and ideologies to adopt, and which requests posed to us by others to accept, rather than automatically adopting what others tell us or demand of us. This is true even when others are supposedly figures of authority, such as parents, teachers, experts, professionals, government officials, or religious figures. It is always acting out of our own power, listening to ourselves to see what is right for us, and not doing things we don’t really want to do, even when others tell us that this is what we should or must do. Personal sovereignty means making decisions without worrying what others might say about us. Read more…
Respecting the personal sovereignty of others means remembering that other people are autonomous beings with their own choices and preferences. We do not act upon them without their consent. We do not try to impose our opinions or wishes on them, or pose demands, or force them to act according to our wishes. We certainly do not threaten them with sanctions, punishment, or violence (either verbal or physical) if they do not obey us. We also do not try to get something from others by deception or manipulations, or claim that we have some entitlement to live at their expense. We respect and are sensitive to their borders, we do not invade or impose on their space or time, we do not touch them without their permission, and we do not yell at them. Read more…
- Think of events in your life when you did not respect your personal sovereignty. How did it make you feel? Why did you behave in this way? How would you like to act differently? What are the challenges involved in doing so?
- Now do the same regarding events when your personal sovereignty was not respected by someone.
- Now do the same regarding events when you did not respect someone else’s personal sovereignty.
Personal sovereignty means taking full responsibility for one’s life, thoughts, emotions, choices, decisions, and actions.
A sovereign person never blames anyone or anything as an excuse to justify his/her actions or lack thereof. Blaming weakens the blamer – he adopts a mentality of a victim and denies himself connection to his own internal power, which is the only thing that can really make a positive difference in his life.
For example, people tell themselves and others: “I would like to quit my job, but what can you do, I cannot do that, because …” and then they continue with a variety of excuses. In this way they give up their power and get stuck in a mental state of helplessness. A victim mentality leads to anger about the world, and then to despair, depression, and anxiety.
Instead, we can say: “I would like to quit my job and work somewhere that would be more suitable for me, and in the meantime, I choose to work here because I want money for my needs. But I also have a long term plan how to make a change in my career, and I act to advance it as best I can.” Notice how “I cannot” that deprives me of power was replaced by “I choose” which matches the powerful being that I am.
So it is always in our own best interest to take responsibility for our life’s condition, since this attitude empowers us. We always have freedom of choice how to treat reality and act in it according to our convictions. We can always act as best we can to improve ourselves and our lives, as well as contribute to improving our environment.
Also, we take full responsibility for our emotions. Even when someone else’s words or actions trigger in us emotional pain, or any form of discomfort, we remember that we are the ones who are responsible for our emotions, and we don’t blame someone else for “causing” us to feel this way. Different people feel differently in response to the same kind of situation, so our emotions stem from our interpretation of the situation and not from the situation itself.
- Think of events in your life when you blamed people or circumstances to justify your actions, decisions, or feelings.
- In those events, what were the consequences of not taking personal responsibility?
- In those events, how could you take personal responsibility?
- What would be the consequences of that?
There are only two types of situations that justify an exception to the principle of respecting the personal sovereignty of others. The first one is when the personal sovereignty of a person is intentionally violated by others. In that case, it is justified for that person to act in self defense and to do whatever is necessary to stop this violation in order to protect him/herself, even if that means violating the personal sovereignty of the attackers.
For example, if one person threatens another’s life at the point of a gun (let’s say for the sake of example that the threatened person did nothing to provoke this attack), then it is justified for the threatened person to use whatever means necessary to stop this threat, and that includes using violence that infringes upon the attacker’s personal sovereignty. The attacker deliberately did not show respect for the other person’s sovereignty, so he is not justified in complaining that the threatened person violates the attacker’s personal sovereignty. Toleration towards others does not mean tolerating intolerance – that is nonsensical.
Of course, there are many subtleties that may be involved here (such as intentional vs. unintentional action, defense using means that are reasonable and proportional to the magnitude of the threat rather than using excessive force, acting out of caution vs. vengeance, etc.), and we cannot go into all of them here.
(The second type of situation that justifies an exception to the principle is when a person is in a state where he/she cannot be responsible for their personal sovereignty. For example, children that don’t know yet how to control themselves so as not to hurt themselves or others, or a person who is under the influence of some chemicals that interfere with proper judgment, or a person who is mentally retarded. In such situations, it may be justified for an appropriate person (such as a parent or a guardian) to take responsibility for the unable person and make decisions and actions for that person, so long as this is done for the benefit of the unable person.)
Why do people violate personal sovereignty?
People often violate the personal sovereignty of themselves or of others. They blindly follow what others tell them, or they make demands and force others to do things without consent. Why does that happen?
This is because in our society, we are taught from a very early age that the individual is not the sole sovereign on his/her life.
In childhood, parents and family members told us what we were allowed and forbidden to do. They got angry at us or imposed punishments on us if we did not obey them. Since we were dependent on their love for our very survival, we learned to obey them. We then also internalized their opinions and prohibitions as if they were our own (the parents also internalized their norms during their childhood from their own parents).
As a result, we started imposing on ourselves things we did not really want and that were not right for us (e.g. going to study some profession that was not really interesting for us, only because we were told it is prestigious or lucrative or “the right thing you should do”). When we do not or cannot live up to these expectations and rules, we feel guilt and shame, and we punish ourselves.
Sometimes, adolescents rebel against the suffocating prohibitions imposed upon them, and deliberately do the opposite of what they are told. But this is not real freedom – they are actually enslaved to the rebellion, and they are not truly free to examine and choose for themselves what is truly right and wrong for them, and make independent choices that uniquely suit who they really are.
Our family is not the only source that taught us to give up our power. Teachers in school tell us when we are “good” or “bad” students. The consumerism culture tell us through advertisements what the beauty standards are (this causes body-image complexes in lots of people, especially teenage girls). Religion adds more prohibitions and requirements. The state adds rules and demands, and in some countries expects us to sacrifice our liberty and life and obey commanding officers in the army under forced conscription. Even our own friends sometimes tell us what we should and shouldn’t do.
It is not surprising that children who learn that this is how the world operates grow up to be obedient and subservient to others, or to try to force their will on others through control and manipulations.
How do you relate to this text? Collect examples from your life experience that relate to it.