I loathe when others dictate the choices in my life, especially without my prior knowledge.
It reminds me of my high school life, when most of my decisions were arbitrarily decided by my parents. Regardless of how I argued and presented evidence for why I should spend time with my friends or go to social events, it was always their word over mine.
Most of us still remember the awful feelings and memories of having to defer our decision-making to our parents and guardians, and I'm sure that we are in no hurry to go back to such a suppressed lifestyle.
Today, though, as college students, we have much more independence and freedom in planning and fulfilling our decisions. We no longer need to wait for someone to tell us if we can attend parties or spend time with friends. We decide that for ourselves.
Each and every person should be able to autonomously make and carry out his or her own decisions. Such an ideal is considered to be a fundamental maxim in several philosophical theories; a person should have control on the choices they make in life, and people should respect such autonomy accordingly.
However, when should one interrupt another's autonomy, and make decisions for him or her instead?
Suppose you and a friend attend a party after a stressful week of midterms. Both of you take in several shots and bottles of beer, enough to get both of you inebriated. Your friend, desiring to have more fun, wants to head to another party with a group of suspicious party-goers you don't know. Although you are aware your friend wants to have fun, you are worried that he or she has already hit the limit, and you will be unable to keep your friend safe.
At points like these, you or someone else may need to intervene and temporarily take another person's autonomy away.
Regardless of what you would do, your decision depends on what you perceive as being the best outcome for your friend. Your perception, however, may be at odds with what your friend realistically desires. You want to protect your friend, but you also want to make sure you aren't infringing on your friend's ability to decide for him or herself.
Such a case brings up a thought-provoking question: When does your "respect" for someone's autonomy become wrong?
I have several friends who drink often and partake in copious amounts of dangerous drugs. I know of the numerous and harmful effects of these substances. I want to stop them from doing such poisonous activities and make them realize the errors of their lifestyles.
However, I also know that they are now adults and have the capacity to live their lives however they so choose. Lecturing them about how they aren't acting "right" would give off the impression that I do not respect their autonomy and independent thinking.
Issues such as these are difficult to resolve; there are no black and white answers, only gray ones.
In my case, I would have tried to get my friend away from such dubious individuals, on the basis that he or she, from my perspective, was not able to make clear and logical decisions. I am not saying that what I did was the universally "right" action; instead, I'm saying that it was right based on my viewpoint.
Another person could've done the opposite, and the outcome could've been something less tragic than what I might have imagined.
When it comes to respecting a person's autonomy, you can partition off having too much and too little for someone. It's trying to define the right amount of respect and when to intervene where the problem lies.
Jan Urbano is a senior in biological sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.