During my training last week, I led a discussion on autonomy and self determination. It was a hard topic to get my head around and figure out how best to apply this type of thinking to the collectivist Tongan culture. It’s a very “west” thought. If you’re Tongan, you don’t just get to act in accordance to what you think is best for yourself, there is the family/village/community to consider.
If I’m honest, I’m not sure how much of “client autonomy” will be adopted in my workplace. My co-workers were surprised to learn that (in general) social workers don’t tell people what to do. And additionally surprised that I recommended that they always start by asking the client what their opinion is. And that’s ok. I’m glad that the training is helping my co workers think through these social work concepts.
I also got pulled up by one of them, which was a little embarrassing. “But Hena, you told me yesterday that I should stop smoking. And then today, you say not to tell our clients what to do.”
“Yes Sione but you are not my client. You are my friend.”
He’s right. I probably wasn’t practicing what I was preaching there. I was more focused on the fact that my friend, at the impressive age of 75 and in what I see to be, the time of life where preventive health should especially be taken seriously, has a nasty smoking habit.
I remind Sione that smoking fills his lungs with tar and increases his risk of cancer. I point out that if he stops smoking he could probably live longer than both of his parents. And he just laughs. And keeps puffing away. Sione is not worried about tomorrow. Sione is not even worried about today.
Life would be a lot easier if I didn’t have to respect the autonomy of people when they are making stupid decisions.
I find autonomy much easier to deal with in my professional life with clients, then in my personal life with family and friends. I can handle it when a client makes a choice that I don’t agree with. But I’d lose sleep when my sister or mother was about to do something I felt strongly was a bad idea.
To confuse things even more, I do think there is a place to counsel people against making unhealthy or unhelpful choices. How to give that advice and then let things go… I’m working on that part.
Life would be much more simple if everyone just listened to me.