Self Reliance: What is it? What does it mean?

The ability to take care of yourself in the midst of overwhelming odds. A house with a berm all around it in the middle of a lake

Is it a good thing or a not-so-good thing?

A school of thought says man is to live in community, therefore all must contribute to the community, and all must rely on the community. This contribute-and-rely relationship forms a bond between the individual and the community. This may sound like a great concept, but it has a major flaw: It overlooks individuality!

Humans are born as individuals; this is a biological fact. A child is born as its own individual. Yes, it carries jeans – I know it’s “genes,” but I’m trying to lighten up this heavy, but important subject – and to see if you were paying attention. 🙂

From each parent the child inherits those genes, so there are direct similarities, but the child is also uniquely different. This unique difference and its importance to life is huge.

How does this relate?

Bear with me … We are all unique, thus we are all, to use a well-meaning metaphor, meant to be the “black sheep.” For some, this uniqueness is obvious and for others it is much subtler.

Discovering our uniqueness is key to finding happiness because it defines us as an individual. When we know who we are as individuals, we can be ourselves, comfortably without having to try and prove to others who we are.

Although this may sound simple and straight-forward, discovering this uniqueness is complicated by the fact that most of us spend the first eighteen years of our lives living is close relationship (community-family) with people whom we share similarities (genes) and perhaps not much else. As we start out as infants, we rely totally on our parents and, sometimes, even older siblings.

Related: 10 key lessons in the art of being self reliant 

Choosing your battles wisely

As we grow older, this family attempts to mold us into a shape that fits the family. This is not necessarily a good or bad thing – it just is. This process is where rebellion comes into play as individuals seek individuality apart from their family. Whereas rebellion is a natural part of maturing into an individual, it can often linger for a lifetime. This occurs when the individual is rebelling for rebellion sake and not rebelling as a natural process of becoming their own self. (I see a lot of nodding heads out there).

To complicate matters even further is that our lives incorporate more than just our family. Our community grows to include all the people that we live and interact with daily. As we get older, especially in the teen years, this larger community begins to influence us as individuals to conform to the shape or norms of the community.

Okay, a little deep, I understand, especially for a layman and not an accredited psychologist, so let me move on. However, seeing it for what it is helps us understand the magnitude and relevance our community plays in our lives. Breaking away from the conformity of the community can be difficult. I’m not saying to become the Unibomber  – a society has to put some bounds on freedom. But, your unique individuality is important to the community. Choosing to become a productive part of the community that people can depend upon – rather than someone dependent upon others – is why self-reliance is so important.

Where self-reliance comes in

The breaking of this bond with the community is called becoming self-reliant. Ok, so why is this so important? Because self-reliance equals freedom.

Self reliance is quite simply the ability to take care of yourself.

Let me explain:

Think of your unique individuality as a bird in a series of cages: The first cage is your heart, the second is your mind, and the third is just this big cumbersome cage that sort of holds the other two cages in place, call it the body.

Parrot in a cageIt is somewhat easy to let the bird out of the first cage because it is our true desire our yearning. The second cage is a real bother because family, friends, and society all have their hands on all the cage doors. “You don’t want to do that! You would be better off doing this!” Once we are able – if we are able – to break out of second cage, the third becomes somewhat easier. This is the cage of the “self.” Represented by the body because of the physical nature, as our bird leaves this final cage, it will be exposed to the world. It will be shot at, it will be laughed at, and it may be ridiculed: “what an ugly duckling,” comes to mind; yet, out of all three cages, out past the blazing guns and laughing hyenas, lies happiness.

Although getting out of all three cages is difficult, there is one key that works on all three cages – that key is self-reliance!

Once you become self-reliant, you can live a fulfilling and purposeful life by sharing your unique gift and your talents with the community.

This is Happiness! And you can get there. Don’t Be A Cow!

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