Social Science Dorothy Lee

In this chapter, Dorothy Lee’s reading gave us a good view of different types of cultures and the personal autonomy of the people . Lee believes that “the principle of personal autonomy is supported by the cultural framework” (lee,5) She explores this by comparing our Western society to several north American aboriginal societies. When we think of our society we are only free to do things to a limit. Whether that limit may be good or bad, otherwise our individual autonomy is restricted in this society. The key problem that Dorothy Lee is addressing in this reading is the conflict between individual autonomy and social structure.

Lee presents different material from a number of different societies to show “how the principle of personal autonomy is supported by the cultural framework” (lee, 1). She shows that this conflict has been resolved in the aboriginal society. In this essay I will talk about the respect the Natives have for each other’s individual integrity. Lee says “In every society we find some organized social unit; but not everywhere does the social unit provide freedom to the individual or the opportunity for spontaneous functioning; nor do we find a value for sheer personal being” (Lee, 7).

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In particular I will show how this situation has been resolved, when she talks about child bearing in the Wintu Indian society. In every society there are different forms of child rearing. Dorothy Lee shows us that in certain societies, children are not treated different or as minorities. Children are treated with respect and there is a mentality that “it is not the right of the parent to give permission or freedom because it is not within their right to give” (lee, 6). Therefore, the Wintu Indians believe that through guiding their child and not commanding them, it will not affect the child’s personal autonomy.

The Wintu Indians believe that it is important to listen to a child’s opinion and feelings. They do this because they try really hard to not have an effect on the child’s personal autonomy. The Indians have so much respect for their child personal autonomy, in one society Lee examines that a child has really long hair going over his eyes and it has not been cut yet. When asked why the child’s hair has not been cut, the mom simply replies “he has not asked to have it cut”(Lee,7). The mother simply would not act without the request of her child.

This belief shows that” the individual shown absolute respect from birth and valued as sheer being for his own uniqueness. When raising a child in this society we find ourselves asking questions like “to what extent can we allow a child to make his own decision” (lee,2). We have no trust in these kids, whereas in many other societies we know,” it would be presumption for any person to “allow” another to take what is essentially his prerogative” (lee, 4).

The Wintu Indians believe the child should decide for himself. It is in the parent’s mentality to give permission or freedom because it is not within their rights to give” (lee, 7) . An example of this would be . There is no time schedule for their children. When a child is hungry, they will feed them, when a child is sleepy, they will put them to sleep. They are showing the respect for the individual’s personal being. The individual is shown absolute respect from birth and valued as sheer being for his own uniqueness. The child is learning form a young age to be sensitive to the beginning of others and to show some type of emotion when they have a problem.

When a child is trained at such a young age about these things, it would come to him/her naturally when they are older. An example of this training comes from the culture of the Chinese. American observers found that there was no attempt to toilet trains these babies. Astonishingly, these babies were able to let their mom know that they had to “minciate” at the age of only 6 months old. It is the mother who trains herself to feel the signs of the baby when he/she wants to minciate. The mother “sensitizes herself to the rhythm and helps the baby adopt social discipline with spontaneity” (Lee, 8).

The end results of this is that the baby is toilet trained at a very young age and his autonomy remains unaltered because his mother has the patience to listen to him. The society in which we live in has such a huge effect on us that even the way we talk to our children can affect the their personal autonomy. The children of the Wintu Indians ask for information by simply saying “can I” (Lee, 6). By simply saying this, elders know that the children are asking for information on the rules of structure.

Another example would be when a child is seeking information on the rules of a structure like religion. The child would say” is it permissible for me to” or “do you allow me to” (lee, 6). This shows that it is not the freedom of the elders to give to the child. They are showing their respect for the child and” their awareness of the unique temple of the individual” (lee,6). In conclusion, Dorothy Lee shows the respect some societies have for each other’s individual integrity, being from child rearing to even the language.

She wants us to think about the value for sheer personal being. She wrote this paper to show us about different cultures and societies. The societies are very different from the Western societies and these cultures may be looked down upon in Western society. Lee also shows that these “other” societies are able to keep their personal autonomy. The have respect for one another’s sheer personal being and personal autonomy. For the Western society, it would be very hard to adapt to the same personal autonomy that the Wintu Indians or other societies have, because of our cultural values.

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Social Science Dorothy Lee. (2016, Oct 10). Retrieved from