Beyond Obedience

We can now deal with challenges to our autonomy with resourceful responses that go beyond obedience.

Arnold Siegel Health & Wellness


The standards for our autonomy exist not because they possess an absolute power or truth. They are made by us and reflect what we expect of one another’s capacities for responsibility.

In the main we are trained via the carrot and the stick to conform to these standards—to these rules and expectations stipulated by the cultural matrix. But mimicry, conformity and timidity (obedience) are a diminished quality of autonomy.

Yes, we have the capacity to obey. Our nature is vulnerable to intimidation and to subjection, to the demand that we obey or conform. Pressured, parented, educated and trained by punishment or its threat or by reward or the promise of one, we learn to put forth the fitting response of an obedient subject.

However, as we well know, obedience is one thing and rewards are another but neither represents the power of responsibility. As such, we have chosen to go beyond obeying the lower order of our natural instincts for managing our autonomy. We have turned our attention to different standards wherein autonomy is an imaginative feat, a moral obligation, and an independent accomplishment. These standards underpin the biography earned responsibly.

Said another way, instead of relying on our untutored ego-function and immediacy-driven instincts, we have envisioned and practice a philosophy of life that addresses America’s pioneering experiment with liberty, morality and agency. Key to the experiment is the demand and respect for life and lifestyle we earn via the reasoned and rational choices, decisions and judgments we make. Internal to this biography is a well-informed and well-managed ego-function.

In the universe of America, our culture transcends our ego-function. This means it is our culture that defines the space or context in which we are to respond with our informed ego-function to the call for the transformation of the naked primate. You and I are already and always embedded in the behavioral dynamics of America’s enculturating matrix. That is, we are already charged with the responsibility for the ends we choose and the means we employ to earn our biography.

The goal of our philosophy is to help us accept responsibility for meeting the demands built into the matrix for creating a life of our own design and to help us achieve the stability, contentment and productivity that result from the efficacy of our autonomous enterprise.

Does this mean that we never obey? Yes and no. If we have seriously undertaken the responsible actions of our informed and managed ego-function, we can now deal with challenges to our autonomy with resourceful responses that go beyond obedience.

The responsible actions of our informed and managed ego-function also allow us to recognize the civil means to be one of us, to achieving our country.

We know how to cooperate, to be part of the team, to carry our weight, to compromise—in other words, how to deal with the situation in which we find ourselves but with less of the disappointment, anxiety and resentment that dog an autonomy limited to obedience.

Arnold Siegel is the founder of Autonomy and Life and the leader of its Retreat Workshops and Advanced Classes. Visit autonomyandlife.com for more information.