I read a new book by retired neonatologist Professor John Wyatt, called “Dying well”. It touched me, and helped me by reassuring me that Janet did indeed “die well”. The following thoughts were written as a precursor to the poem that fellows.
So much of our life revolves around control, to manage what we do and how we do it. We talk of “self-control” as an attribute much to be desired; and to “lose control” is to fall into the depths of depravity or illness, There is a sense in which “control” is adverse, as in abusive “coercive control”, but that is clearly distinct from “self-control”. It shows that “control” is not necessarily good.
So, when might it be good to not hold control?
When it is in the other’s interest to be able to control us, perhaps. Can there be shared control? Or mutual control? Shared control seems possible, as when two people jointly hold responsibility for a decision, perhaps a doctor and a patient, who both have to agree with a course of action for it to happen. However, this essay concerns ‘self-control” and the circumstances in which this could be appropriate.
To relinquish control in any situation seems hard, but when another is set up to care for you, whether in nursing, social, or medical work, then by not “letting go”, you will inhibit and impair their work. That sounds like formal healthcare, but informally too, for one person to not let go, another who would wish to care, is prevented.
Again, concretely, a dying person whose family member or friend would like to help with their care, perhaps in the embarrassing area of continence and toileting, or perhaps in the still embarrassing but less personal realm of money, unless the dying person permits it, this act of kindness is thwarted, and the person seeking to help is diminished.
In the language of “autonomy” (self-control), the diminishing of another is an ethical negative, while the affirmation of another is the ethical goal. I diminish you by any act that impairs your ability to act positively, to grow yourself or others.
Autonomy? A sonnet.
I control my life by having choice: to grow
or to enable other’s growth: I choose,
when powerful, to change the path for some
to’enable or prevent them gain some goal.
But when I find myself to be in need
of others’ help, how then choose what to do?
I could somehow compel another’s help,
And so diminish their autonomy.
Or I could choose to let them have control
By stepping out of my controlling place.
They are enhanced this way, as I forego
The right to have control of all my life.
It is in sacrificing such control
That we enhance the other, heart and soul.
Peter Campion, October 2018