You can’t boss me…

“[T]he latest research shows that terminally ill patients who seek aid in dying aren’t primarily concerned about pain. Those who have actually used these laws have been far more concerned about controlling the way they exit the world than about controlling pain… “It’s almost never about pain,” said Lonny Shavelson, a Berkeley, Calif., physician who specializes in the care of the terminally ill and who began writing prescriptions for lethal doses of medication in June, when California’s law took effect. “It’s about dignity and control.”” – Washington Post

The Washington Post article reminded me of a conversation I had with an elderly woman about the dissatisfaction she felt with her diminished life in a long-term care facility. She knew she would be happy, she said, if she could only have an apartment of her own.

I pointed out her children’s concerns about her safety, and she said she would rather die sooner living in an apartment than live longer in her current residence.

Most of us crave autonomy and respect, and we can tolerate many difficulties when those qualities are present.

We want to feel in control of our lives, to make decisions large and small whose sum total makes up the substance of our days.

I have worked at jobs where all the important decisions were made for me. My circle of influence was very small, and I often found myself feeling frustrated and unhappy.

A child says, “You are not my boss.” A dissatisfied worker says, “Trust my ability to make more decisions about my work.” An elderly woman says, “I would rather die than not be able to do the simple tasks of life that give me purpose and responsibility.”

The desire for self-determination is deeply embedded in the human psyche. People have been willing to give up their lives on its behalf.

What are the implications for leaders and parents of this universal desire for self-determination?

It means that we do everything in our power to give others as much decision-making authority and responsibility as possible and provide the learning and other supports required to enable success.

Do you agree: Is the desire for self-determination universal, and what can we do to meaningfully support individuals of all ages in its realization?

8 Responses to “You can’t boss me…”


  1. 1 Rick Repicky November 2, 2016 at 7:59 am

    I agree that autonomy is important – people take more responsibility for what they create. Thanks to Daniel Pink for making this clear in his Ted Talk on motivation. It seems that a leadership key is establishing a framework to work within. It’s the DuFour loose-tight concept. As a leader, you need to work with staff leaders to establish a tight frame, but then be loose as to how staff operates within that frame.

  2. 3 Jpk November 2, 2016 at 10:13 am

    Autonomy, self-determination, is a powerful motivator that acknowledges a person’s capacity rather than limitations. It influences so many aspects of our lives, and is especially important in education.

  3. 5 Jan Bernath November 2, 2016 at 10:33 am

    I have been a proponent of death with dignity since 1995 when I watched my friend die with no dignity. Once she was in the medical system, they kept her in a state of no way out.

  4. 7 Kent Peterson November 3, 2016 at 11:21 am

    A very thoughtful discussion of a very challenging issue. Thx


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