> Essay: The Myth of Independence

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- The Myth of Independence -

by Lincoln Sayger

459 wds.
First published on Jan 15, 2016

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We like, in our society, to think that our goal as persons is to become independent adults, capable of making our own decisions and bearing the burdens of the consequences. We like to think that, once we're gainfully employed, that we're independent beings in control of our own destinies.

This is a myth, in both senses of the word.

We like to think we value responsibility and work ethic, but what we really value, when we encourage others to chase after the myth of independence is the illusion of stability. The worker who gets hired by a large firm and works there throughout his career is not independent. He is like a piglet who has found his place to suckle. He is completely dependent on the firm that hired him. The small business owner who works for himself is likewise dependent on others, who must choose to hire or buy from him. Without the community that surrounds us, we are nothing. The only people who could be said to be independent in any sense are those who live apart from society, living off the land and trading nothing with others. Even then, they are dependent on the land, and thus on God, for everything they eat.

None of us are independent, and the notion of the independent adult is less than 300 years old. In the past, people more readily recognized their interdependence and often lived in large extended family groups. Ancient Israelites lived together in groups of small homes surrounding a common area that kept families close together. In other cultures, when a man went off to prove himself, it was usually with the goal of bringing acclaim, wealth, or connection to allies back to the family.

There are many benefits to living in community, and if you don't live in community with your family, you have to go out and find another community to join. The idealization and idolization of independence pulls us apart from our families and communities and leads to frustration among those who are unable to form new associations readily enough to function apart from the communities in which they grew up.

Society would be well served by a new philosophy concerning independence. While it is good for individuals to be self-reliant and self-disciplined in work effort, we should remember the truth that was so well described by John Donne: "No man is an island, entire of itself." We are all connected, and we should all be lifting each other up. And sometimes, that means putting aside our notions of what an independent adult should do for himself, and giving someone a hand connecting with an opportunity. We cannot rightly use the ideals of responsibility as excuses to abandon our fellow men to neglect.

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