I wanted to open this post with a really cool (read with two thumbs up, of course) definition of terms but the first source I referred to defined self-reliance as “reliance on oneself.”
I was always taught not to use a word in its definition, so this rubbed me the wrong way. I had a picture in my mind of the word broken down phonetically like you see on motivational posters and whatnot, but this first definition failed to meet my expectations. I then asked Google to “define self-reliance” (which made me laugh because that seems like a really profound and human thing for a search engine to do) and I was given almost the exact same definition:
reliance on one’s own powers and resources rather than those of others.
There it is again. A definition lacking in overall panache that would, quite frankly, look awful on a poster.
Then the irony hit me. I was relying too much on the powers and resources of others to define a term for me which I clearly think that I already know how to define! So I’m going to define it. And I’m going to make it poster-worthy.
To me, self-reliance goes much deeper than just doing something yourself. I think that there are copious amounts of power, trust, and love that accompany true acts of self-reliance, whether it be on the level of the “individual self” or the “family self.” I’ve taken responsibility for a lot of the kind of smaller tasks in my life over the past ten years or so. I tend to cut my own hair which I’ve gotten much better at over time. I drive a 1997 Chevrolet which I always try to troubleshoot and fix first before I take it in. For the most part, the tasks that I won’t try to fix first are on the short list and usually required heavy machinery and a license to use it.
I think that this has been helpful to me on a level beyond the completion of the itself or the financial savings (which are large, especially when it’s something to do with the truck). Oil changes are a really great example. Overall, I save maybe a few bucks when I change my own oil and I don’t save very much time because I like to really let it drain. But I changed the oil on my (our) vehicle with my tools and my hands. It’s really empowering. It increases my trust in myself. It increases my wife’s trust in the fact that I can effectively handle situations as they come up. It shows my family that I love them enough to do the work myself and make sure that it’s done 100% completely and correctly the first time. Again, that’s a huge return on a $20-25 and an hour tops.
That’s one of the most amazing parts of “family self” self-reliance.
Let’s take a quick look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a widely accepted explanation of human psychological development and the factors that drive our behaviors.
Using my oil change example, I am fulfilling every one of those needs to some degree, except probably physiological. My family are safe because I I did the work and can insure that it was done correctly. It contributes to love and a sense of family. I feel a sense of accomplishment and each time I do it, I grow and get better and feel more confident. That’s some pretty powerful stuff.
I think the only problem I really have with the common notion of hardcore self-reliance is that there is very little that we can do entirely on our own, especially without being reliant on some external for maybe the most crucial tool for self-reliance: knowledge.
Say someone wants to go live in the woods. He can go walk into the woods completely naked start from absolute scratch. But how is he going to know how to make shelter and some sort of body covering without some form of prior knowledge. Maybe he’s extremely crafty and he just happens to be able to figure out how to construct a substantial enough dwelling to survive (a) the climate that he doesn’t know about or (b) repel the wildlife that he also doesn’t know about. And how is this person going to get food? My whole point is that human existence thrives and perpetuates through interaction and the exchange of information with other human being. You can save yourself a world of hurt by having someone else tell you that the X berries that grow in the Y part of the forest are poisonous. Or that bears will come into your camp if you leave food out. Or that you shouldn’t take the cap off your car’s radiator without letting the car cool down first. Knowledge is what powers so much of self-reliance and so often it is gained from others.
I think that responsibility is one of the most amazing aspects of being self-reliant. Not so much the responsibility you would find at a job, but the stewardship of something greater than yourself. The shouldering of generations of sweat, blood, and tears and the channeling of that energy into your own individual or family’s self-preservation. I think an interesting twist on the wisdom of Ben Parker (you know, Spiderman’s uncle?) would be that from great responsibility comes great power. A power that you draw from within yourself and supplement with the knowledge of others.
That, to me, it the true essence of self-reliance.
So, back to my poster-worthy definition. Let’s start with another familiar phrase: “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” I reply: “It doesn’t matter what you make out of the lemons life hands you, as long as you make it your own.” Make Thai basil lemonade or a homemade lemon wood polish. Cure your scurvy or brighten your copper pots. Plant the seeds, grow a tree and start handing out lemons yourself. Whatever you do, do it 100% and make it your own. And be happy and proud of yourself for doing so. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.
– D. Glass
P.S.- here’s the poster: