No one can make anyone do anything.

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I think this is a very valuable concept.  I take this from Choice Theory, by William Glasser, a wonderful book.  This is how I tell it.

The Three Myths

Ask yourself, "Why do I answer the phone?"  If your answer is, "Because it rings," read on. 

Myth #1: My actions are caused by things outside of me. Most people believe that people do things they are told to, or because things outside of them make them do the things they do.  "I answer the door because of the door bell. That joke offended me.   I drove to town because I had to."

Myth #2: You can control ,or at least strongly influence, my actions.  Most people see others as the strongest influence in their lives.  This myth is based on Myth #1.  "I do what you want me to.  Do as you are told.  Be obedient.  Others made me do that.  I did what I was told."

Myth #3:  You believe you should tell me what to do, control me. You take responsibility for my actions.  Most people believe either that they should guide others or that they should be careful to avoid actions that will cause other people's actions.   This is based on Myth #1 and #2.  Each person naturally believes their beliefs are better than that of others.  After all, each person selected their beliefs based on their own preferences from many points of view or beliefs possible.  Certainly each person does not select a poor belief – they pick the best one they can.  They may change their belief based on new input, but they will change it from a lesser one to a better one. 

And so Myth #3 becomes the result of the following logic. Your actions are controlled by the outside.  I can influence you.  I, with the best intentions, should influence you. I should be persuasive. "You should adopt my way of doing things.  Listen to me. You are wrong. I'm just helping when I tell you that what you are doing is stupid."  

These three myths dominate personal relationships and even professional relationships.  Doctors, lawyers, pastors, therapists, parents freely tell other people what to do. 

Myths Clarified

But take that first myth apart and you find something new. 

  • When the phone rings the human brain hears it. 
  • Then the brain classifies the sound. 
  • Then it interprets the sound. 
  • Then it evaluates the current situation.
  • It compares and contrasts this to previous experiences.
  • It compares and contrasts possible actions with previous experiences.
  • It selects a desirable response.
  • Then, and only then, does it make a decision to answer the phone.  

The human brain goes through many hundreds of operations before that decision is made. 

The principle is All human behavior arises from within the human, and is not externally determined.  (That's, to my way of thinking, the end of Myth #1.  This also cancels the next two Myths.)  I call this the central Rule of AutonomyAll people always do what they decide to do.  No one can make anyone do anything.

Or my favorite one-liner: All people are chronically disobedient.  Learn to live with it.

Parents are often surprised that when the "obedient" kids reach teenage years, that they stop obeying.  I think it is better to realize that the kids never did obey.  They just "went along" with the parents for a while based on their love or perception of threat.  The ones who "went along" based on a sense of love, usually seem to move smoothly through the teenage years.  The ones who "went along" based on threats, now change their behavior radically as the parent's threats seem progressively less powerful, 

Awareness of the Rule of Autonomy in human relationships seems to produce two patterns:

The absence of persuasion and argument replaced by curiosity and sharing.  This is shown in a decrease of threatening tactics and a rise in communication skills. "I'm not interested in pushing you to do what I want.  I am interested in your sharing what you believe and my sharing what I have learned."

An increase in patience, curiosity about the decisions, and responsiveness to the reactions of others. With awareness that my partner's actions are determined by her, I tend to wait to see how she will "take it" and learn ways to deal with any of her ways of reacting.      

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