What is self-reliance?
I want to present a contrarian-perspective of self-reliance that is likely not what the reader is looking for.
Matthew B. Crawford is perhaps one of my favorite authors and modern day philosophers. It’s a bit unfortunate that his work is not readily accessible to the masses, as Mr. Crawford’s writing is challenging to read for those with little background in philosophy.
In his book, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction, Crawford presents a solid argument that individuality, [i.e., self-reliance], is developed not in solitude, but in community. Note here, the relation of this argument with the systems thinking involved in resilience.
The question is this, do we create the world in our minds as we live our lives, making representations of various objects as we would like them to be? Or, is it the case that we live in an objective world that has a solid reality that exists outside of ourselves?
I agree with Crawford that our world is objective. In this manner, it is in community where we bump up against those who have gone before us and those in our community where we work out our individuality and self-reliance as we interact with the objective world around us.
My stance on self-reliance, then, is that it’s not found in solitude, but exactly the opposite- in social ecologies. It is in social ecologies where we live and move and find our being.
It’s true that self-reliance is critically important in life, therefore, community is important. As we spend time in community and learn to relate with one another, we are more capable of understanding who we are.
In stating the above, one cannot speak of ‘self-reliance’ without mention of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882, was a Unitarian minister who left the ministry for a career in public speaking and writing. His essay on Self-Reliance is worth reading. The essay can be read in its entirety here: Self-Reliance.
A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages.
Emerson is suggesting that we should listen to our hearts when they speak to us. Too often, we have a glimpse, an interior notion, that we ought to do something. But as is so often the case, this interior notion often contradicts what those around us would say is the right thing to do. Emerson says that when our interior notion goes against the advice of our tradition and culture, we should learn to be self-reliant and listen to our inner voice.
Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.
Again, Emerson is suggesting that our hearts vibrate with joy when we learn to listen and trust our own inner judgment.
In his essay, Emerson speaks of great men and women, like Aristotle, Shakespeare, and Montessori. He expresses that among other things, these heroes had a perception of themselves that they trusted. They were self-reliant in listening to their heart.
“…their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their [own] heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being.”
For the greats who have walked before us, “the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their own soul.”
In closing, it is in community, interacting with and relating with objective reality, where we learn to become self-reliant, trusting our own hearts and listening to our inner voice.
I am presenting self-reliance as the art of learning to listen to our own heart and move with it. It is within a community of others, a social ecology, where we journey through a process of becoming an individual and we learn to listen to our heart, that is, to become self-reliant. It is in community where objective reality is made manifest as representing that which really is.
The paradox of becoming self-reliant through social ecologies is beautiful.