The Least Boss

by Carol Jensen

Humans are wired for autonomy. I notice it prevalently in my one year-old grandson, who insists that he can hold the spoon when he’s eating yogurt, applesauce, and other dribble-ready foods. Or when I tell him “no” and does it anyway…grinning! His three year-old brother possesses the same tenacious programming: “I get to say the prayer,” and “Let me pour it.”

It would be inconceivable for me to take that germ of independence from them, for as they grow, they will need to separate from my will before they become mere robots. How ludicrous would it be for me to choose my teen’s clothes and get her dressed in the morning? The desire to be self-governing is inherent.

It’s ironic, therefore, that as a nation, we the people expect our government to feed, clothe and house us. How can we reverse this trend? I believe our youth can be trained to weigh security - with its accompanying dependence - against freedom and its inherent risks.

I just began an experiment. When considering a policy for family government, I ask, “Which does it increase - autonomy or control?” I’d like to teach my children to ask the same question of their nation’s policies. Here’s an exercise we tried at home. We searched “government policies” on the internet and turned up this question: Should the government intervene to reduce obesity? The autonomy/control question brought on a lively discussion.

One of my favorite stories is Ralph Moody’s account in Little Britches of herding cows when he was a young boy. “Leaving the pasture, about half of them streaked off ahead toward Carl’s oat field, while the rest dragged along behind. I went kiting after the leaders, and while I was getting them headed off, the others got past me by running up a little valley where I couldn’t see them. Fanny and I got them out easy enough, but by that time the first bunch was back into the field a hundred yards or so farther down the road. We raced back and forth between the two herds till Fanny was in a lather, but as soon as I got one herd out, the other was in.”

When Ralph returned that evening with a sweaty horse, Father had some advice about sparing the animal’s strength. Using the cowboy Hi as an example, Father concluded, “When he had to go after them, he wouldn’t race as you do. He’d go at a nice easy lope till he was past the strays, then bring them back at a slow walk so as to keep them calm and quiet. Always remember, Son, the best boss is the one who bosses the least. Whether it’s cattle or horses or men; the least government is the best government.” Autonomy or control?  One is spiritually reviving; the other, spiritually destructive.