Self-reliance is a good thing. First of all, the best side-effect of self-reliance is self-knowledge. You know your strengths and weaknesses, skills and abilities, and so self-doubt, by-and-large, does not touch you. Why? Because experience has taught you where the edges are between what you can handle and what you can’t. Self-reliance is great for self confidence.
The problem develops when a self-reliant person falls into the trap of believing that she doesn’t need other people. Because when you’re self-reliant, you take care of your own needs, right? That puts other people and things into the category of accessories, or at best, perks.
To put this into perspective lets call the first person an independent, and the second, a survivalist. A survivalist has a bare-bones perspective of the world. Not only does she totally do without anything that she cannot make, grow, or build by herself, but she lives a spartan existence owning only items that are practical.
An independent has a pretty lax view of things, philosophically. Having the confidence that they can create what they need, whenever they need it, enables them to be generous without fear. They know that if they gave away all their possessions today, tomorrow they would be able to get some more. So the idea of ownership is kind of fluid.
This illustration in itself is enough to demonstrate the dark side of self-reliance, but so few people know any actual survivalists, so lets bring it closer to home. Take these two people, and describe them emotionally.
The survivalist has a them-or-me mentality, and a focus on scarcity. In her opinion, there is never enough you can do to protect yourself from the predation of others. Self-reliance is the only means of mental, physical, and pecuniary protection she knows. She allows no one near her, because no one is trustworthy.
The independent has a laissez-faire philosophy. Whatever works, works. Because the philosophies and actions of others cannot impinge on that degree of self-knowledge, there’s very little that bothers her. Self-reliance for the independent typically came about as an exploration of her skills and abilities, and not from a drive to succeed or survive.
The place where the dark side of self-reliance is most obvious is in our relationships with other people. The survivalist is like a feral animal. Relationships make her feel trapped. She is only in them for the concrete advantages they bring her; food, security, money, or a place to stay– and she will attack whatever threatens her. Cooperation and the golden rule are foreign concepts to her. It’s a dog-eat dog world, but she’s more like a scavenger than anything else.
The independent cooperates for the sake of cooperation. Intellectually, she has nothing to lose or to gain from helping others because she is basically self-contained. A forward-thinking independent realizes that cooperation and intercommunication raises the quality of life for everyone involved, and the highly enlightened realizes that helping others synergistically brings everyone forward, perhaps someday to the point where they can be independent too. Relationships are all about mutual enjoyment, and occasionally about charity or service. An independent is not generally too focussed on others, except for the enjoyment of people watching or helping them learn.
So, now that we’ve looked at the dark side of what, in the western world, is almost universally held as A Good Thing, what do you think? Do you know people like my examples? Is there anything I missed?