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“Nothing is more desirable than to be released from an affliction, but nothing is more frightening than to be divested of a crutch” (James Baldwin).
INDEPENDENCE, PROPERLY DEFINED, IS A STATE WORTH STRIVING FOR, BUT FRANKLY, IT REQUIRES MORE COURAGE AND INTEGRITY THAN WE MIGHT NOW POSSESS. Desiring “to be released from an affliction” is easy, as Baldwin suggests, but “nothing is more frightening than to be divested of a crutch.” Independence involves not only an enjoyable freedom but also a sobering responsibility.
One popular misconception of independence is that it means complete self-sufficiency, without the need to depend on anyone else for anything at all. But if that’s what independence is, then none of us will ever experience it. In the real world, nobody is self-sufficient, and we need to have the humility to confess that fact. If we can’t see how often in the past we’ve had to be helped by other people, we’re either blindly arrogant or arrogantly blind. Like it or not, we all have needs that can’t be supplied by the unassisted work of our own hands.
Another misconception is that independence means absolute autonomy or self-rule. But again, in the real world this kind of independence is impossible. If we’re looking for a life in which we don’t have to be subordinate to the authority of any other person in any role or relationship whatsoever, we’ll probably be looking for a long time. In the many different relationships in which we find ourselves participating, sometimes we have to lead and sometimes we have to follow. Truly independent people have the ability to follow as well as to lead.
Independence simply means taking personal responsibility for our own lives. As we grow beyond dependence, we quit expecting others to hand us happiness on a silver platter, and we begin paying more attention to our character than to our outward circumstances. This kind of independence is a huge step in the right direction for us. And yet, as desirable as independence is, and as preferable as it is to unhealthy dependence, independence is not the summum bonum of life. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about an even higher goal.
“True independence of character empowers us to act rather than be acted upon. It frees us from our dependence on circumstances and other people and is a worthy, liberating goal. But it is not the ultimate goal in effective living” (Stephen R. Covey).