Gallery E
Seeking Independence
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Strange Paradox Of Self-Reliance

By James Donahue

We live in a world of paradox. The very concept of self-reliance, which many of us seek, strangely depends upon our links with community to be achieved. Thus we must be part of the many before we can learn to be independent from the whole.

And of course, therein lays the paradox.

As one writer explained: "Paradoxically, because we’re more independent, we feel less independent. We’re like nomads; not knowing where our next community sponsored feeling of complete independence will come from."

We watch this working in politics, where members of the Independent Party, or the Tea Baggers, call for a separation from the power of the central government, while accepting all of the benefits in health, education, roads, and other public services provided by that same government.

We watch the homeless vagabonds on the street, some of them perhaps choosing this lifestyle because of their refusal or inability to be bonded to employment for money, yet forced to beg on the street for the money of others just to get a meal, or accept the kindness of the Salvation Army for a cot to sleep on.

There are the wealthy individuals, who achieved their money by providing a service to others, or inheriting it from parents. Because of their wealth they declare their independence, yet utilize all of the services society offers, from the chauffer-driven limousine to the fine meals served by high class restaurants.

Because the world is so heavily populated, it is almost impossible to find a single place to live and practice complete independence. And as long as we share a social network with others, achieving true independence is virtually impossible. Thus our quest for independence is driven by the fact that we are forced to be somewhat dependent on everyone around us.

Indeed, we have all known people who prefer to live alone, and who choose to divorce themselves from society. But even they must reach out regularly to acquire the basic sustenance that keeps them alive. Even if they grow their own food, they must find someone to sell them seed and fertilizer. Even if they sew their own clothes, they must find someone to sell them the cloth and thread.

According to the Bible, Adam and Eve began life in a garden where everything was provided for them. The weather was perfect so they did not need clothes for warmth. The food was picked from the vines that grew all around them. It was a perfect environment. This is every man’s dream, yet it was somehow imperfect. Perhaps out of boredom, they dared to want knowledge and ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. It was obviously a symbolic story that can be peeled back in layers like an onion for its full meaning. The point is that from that day on they were forced to labor to provide for their daily needs. They were thus dependent upon each other just to get through each day. After there was family, everyone became dependent upon everybody else for the same reasons.

Society, by its very nature, forces interdependence. Yet many individuals caught up within a social structure yearn for the ability to reach a state of self-reliance. Achieving it is perhaps an impossible task short of a self-prescribed death sentence.