Our need to belong and our need for independence is a lifelong struggle for all of us as we weigh up our feelings and responsibilities towards other people and the conflicts between their needs and our own. Independence is high on the list of values for most people but so is the desire to help others solve their problems. Both of these, sometimes conflicting, needs are strong and complex.
Catching fish and sharing your catch with hungry people is commendable but a better way by far is to give them a fishing rod and teach them how to catch fish. Giving people fish may lock them into their present feelings of inferiority and failure, whereas helping them be less dependent on others boosts their self-esteem and confidence. It moves them closer to equality with others.
People get the opportunity to achieve independence and self-sufficiency when we resist the urge to do things for them that they are able to do for themselves. Another way of looking at it is that we can help people become self-sufficient by teaching them the life skills they need, and giving them opportunities and encouragement to practice those skills.
Social welfare systems are necessary as a safety net for people who fall on hard times but a society genuinely based on equality would be focused on lifting people out of a dependent state before ‘living on the dole’ becomes part of their identity, which is much harder to alter.
There are five ‘parts’ to responsible behaviour, and these are:
· Identifying the problem;
· thinking up alternative solutions;
· deciding what to do;
· doing it; and
· accepting the consequences.
In each of these we tend to rescue people, especially children, and may not even notice we are doing it. If we are aware of it, we may be surprised that it causes resentment rather than the expected gratitude. Resentment can come from people feeling inferior at being rescued, especially if there is already a general sense of failure from having lost a job, or whatever. There may also be some real gratitude at being rescued, but any resentment may cause further problems.
Having the ability to solve general day-to-day life problems is important for boosting self-esteem and confidence but it’s even more important to equip people to solve their relationship problems and encourage them to become interdependent rather than independent.
Bob Myers, author of Travelling the Road of Peace and Happiness.