(Personal) Independence :: The Good, Bad, and the Ugly!

American Flag: Independence

There are positives and negatives to the pursuit of personal independence. We would do well to learn to strive for the positives and beware the negatives if becoming an “independent” person is our goal.  

There has been a growing trend to desire personal liberty or “autonomy” in American society. See the graph for how Google search trends show a steady increase in searches for the term “autonomy.” People want to “cast off the shackles” of societal or family expectations and be free to do or become whatever they want. We should ask ourselves if this is a band-wagon we should hitch up to.  

  • Will personal independence help us in the strong work we are created to do?  
  • Should becoming independent be my personal goal in life? 
  • And How do I lead in a culture that is driving toward independence and autonomy? 

American Independence as a Case Study

The residents of the British colonies in America felt oppressed, misrepresented, and disrespected by King George and the British Parliament. Representatives from each colony came together and became resolved to declare independence from England on July 4, 1776. Thus, began the new nation of the United States of America. As a case study, what were (some of) the positives and negatives of the American Independence? 

(Granted – these are very short lists, but it is enough to get the point across.) 

The Good of American Independence

  • American people were no longer oppressed or misrepresented. They had the freedom to represent themselves. 
  • They were able to create government with laws according to their own values.  
  • The people felt pride in being their own independent nation, achieving peace of mind from no longer being controlled by British tyranny.

The Bad and Ugly of American Independence

  • The signers of the Declaration of Independence put their lives on the line – and many of them died for their cause.  
  • The nation had to figure out a set of core values as well as how to establish an economy.
  • The people were now separated from their founding nation, England, which before the war gave them strength and protection.
  • The act of separation, which later lead to a declaration of war, was not a peaceful beginning. Many people lost their lives for the sake of their independence.

We can transition from the case study of American independence and relate it to the positives and negatives of personal independence.  

Personal Independence

In his classic work, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey discussed the fact that the pathway of maturity leads you from dependence to independence. A dependent person requires other people to do things for them or even think for them. A baby is a simple example of dependence since they are fully reliant on their parents for their survival. But many adults never fully mature past this maturity stage, so they continue to be dependent on others – financially, physically, or emotionally.  

Covey says that “Independence is the paradigm of II can do it; I am responsible; I am self-reliant; I can choose.” (49) 

True independence of character empowers us to act rather be acted upon. It frees us from our dependence on circumstances and other people and is a worthy, liberating goal. (50)

Jordan Peterson is a psychology professor who challenges people to take personal responsibility and focus on fixing yourself first – before you try to fix the world. (Video / Helpful article.) The message is similar. You mature past dependence in order to choose how you live and how you respond to life circumstances.  

The Good of Personal Independence

  • Independent people have the freedom to choose their values, interests, friends, career, etc. 
  • They are not controlled by society and circumstances. Their identity and emotions are not dependent on other people or what happens around them.  
  • Gives the opportunity to have personal pride and grow toward excellence in life. 

The Bad and Ugly of Personal Independence

  • Independence can produce pride, division and isolation from others.  
    • It ends with Simon and Garfunkel’s song I am a Rock where you can say that you don’t need other people and they don’t affect you. (“a rock feels no pain and an island never cries.”) 
  • Someone whose life objective is to be independent does not really care to add value to others.  
  • An independent person might see others as objects who are there simply to add value to themselves.

Interdependence is the Goal

After Covey’s quote above, he said that independence “is not the ultimate goal in effective living.” The goal is interdependence – since reality is interdependent. We live in a society, a community, and a family. Our economy is interdependent (I didn’t raise the chicken who laid the eggs I ate this morning). We are stronger and accomplish more as a community which has risen above independence to proactively add value to others.

As a leader – I strive to develop myself so I can be the best version of myself and better serve my community while adding value to others.  

As a country – the independent United States would do best if we became the interdependent United States. If individuals focused on improving themselves, we could then add value to our society – with the ultimate goal of adding value to the world. We started with a conflict. My prayer is that we mature from that conflict and grow to be a force of reconciliation and peace in the world.  

(Disclaimer: I believe that many people, organizations, companies, and even politicians have embraced this idea currently and in our nation’s checkered history.) 

Application Questions

  1. Is your goal to become independent or interdependent?
  2. Are you taking responsibility for yourself so that you can grow and then add value to others?

Reference: Covey, Stephen. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Fireside. New York, New York, 1989.

Read this post to learn more about living in community as interdependent people!

About author

Author
Daniel David

For the past several years, I have been on a quest to become a stronger "me" in all the work for which I am a steward (home and office). I am convinced that regular positive messages of encouragement, leadership, and mindfulness will help strengthen us for the journey of life. I have been married to the love of my life for 14 years and we have three children. I am a Texan and a proud graduate of Texas A&M. I work for a small software company called AdvanceNet (www.advancenetlabs.org) My experience as a leader through work and church, my education in seminary, and the coaching I have received through mentors has given me a passion to engage in personal growth. Thank you for your interest in joining me in this journey.

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