Love Letters to Humans (no. 54) — on Sovereignty

Relational Joy Practice: Sovereignty

Self-governance; liberty to decide one’s own thoughts and actions; freedom from external control. *Antitheses: Domination; oppression; enthrallment; dependence

Relational sovereignty, like so many relational joy practices, is not for the faint of heart. It calls on us to take responsibility for our own choices… and for no one else’s. It can be a wildly uncomfortable practice—one that we’ve largely been conditioned to avoid under systems of oppression that hold so many of us as powerless, incapable, and in need of rescue. Squirming in the emotional consequences of our own choices is uncomfortable. Watching other people squirm in the emotional consequences of their own choices is uncomfortable.

This is not to say that we do not care for one another, that we do not communicate our wants and respond with generosity to the wants of others, or that we do not depend on one another for shared physical, spiritual, and emotional nourishment. Without mutual care and interdependence, our existence as social mammals becomes rather bleak.

I am suggesting this: imagining that we need someone else to be different than they are so that we can be okay is a recipe for struggling against them, not joyfully connecting with them. I am suggesting that other people—specifically the ones living their lives and engaging with us (or not) in ways that displease us—are not the reason we feel what we feel, think what we think, want what we want, and do what we do.

Holding someone else responsible for our feelings, thoughts, wants, and actions is an abdication of our sovereignty—we are giving away our power of self-governance and proclaiming our dependence on them to dictate how we will show up. Holding ourselves responsible for someone else’s feelings, thoughts, wants, and actions is an attempt to negate their sovereignty—we are assuming power over them and proclaiming their dependence on us.

If it sounds kinda gross, it feels gross, too. It’s a set up for manipulation, passive-aggression, people-pleasing, chasing, irreconcilable conflict, and potential abuse. If it is possible to have joyful, sustainable connection from a place of contempt and emotional dependency, I have neither witnessed nor experienced it.

I have witnessed and experienced joyful, sustainable connection created from a place of sovereignty, responsibility, and care—and I want this for us.