The Myth of Self Reliance

posted by Jonathan Frei On Saturday, November 07, 2009

Self reliance is a myth. Humans are social creatures that need interaction for emotional well-being and sustenance. The concept of self reliance, however, implies that we can make it alone.

True self reliance would involve a complete withdrawal from society, a Thoreau-like retreat to Walden Pond or a John-the-Baptist-like wandering in the desert. However, even there the fish of the lake or the locus of the wilderness provided what they could not provide for themselves.

Spending a dollar admits that I need what someone else has. Working to earn a dollar admits reliance on either an employer or on customers.

Since pure self reliance is impossible, we must all be dependent. However, there is good dependence and bad dependence. Learning about the good and shutting out the bad is the way forward.

Bad dependence is reliance on others. Good dependence is reliance on others--and yourself. In the second, the difference is learning to count on, trust, and rely on those around me. This is difficult, since it's easy to mistrust people. However, this skill is critical to forming well balanced relationships with the people you know and encounter.

Driving on the highway, I need to trust that the car I'm passing won't suddenly swerve into my lane and run me off the road. I rely on the driver's competence. However, in this situation I also rely on my own driving skills and knowledge to not pass on the left and to avoid cars that are weaving in and out of their lanes.

I work in sales. I rely on my employer to pay me each period, but I also rely on myself to perform. My employer also relies on me to perform. The action it takes to secure my performance is to pay me each period. There we have an example of a well balanced mutually reliant relationship.

A pure reliance, on other hand, is out of balance and even harmful to the individual. Reliance on a person or entity without that entity relying on you is dependence. It plants and nurtures an entitlement mentality. The feeling that you deserve something without earning is a direct result of this one way reliance.

This is why welfare is so damaging to individuals. They receive benefits from the government that they are trained to rely on. The government does not receive any reciprocated benefit. This one way relationship of giving is not generosity, and it does not promote a society built on balanced and mutually reliant social relationships.

When the cycle becomes one of take take take instead of give take give take, the relationship shifts from that of two people to that of a house pet. I'm not calling welfare recipients animals. Many people truly need assistance to survive. However, when dependence replaces mutual self reliance, it diminishes a distinctly human.

I'm learning the beauty of mutual self reliance. It reveals the deeper value the people in my life have, and shows me my own intrinsic value which I provide through our relationship.

Photo by Nicholas T
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