A question came to me while shaving today (questions have a way of doing that). To what extent should we depend on others, to what extent should we be self-sufficient, and to what extent should we be helping others?
Depending on others for help is a virtue. It teaches you not to place your hope in your own strength. It teaches you that we are all connected and we all share one destiny (in this life, anyway). But there’s also something unsatisfying and unsettling about leeching other people’s resources. If they weren’t using that money for you, they could use it for something else.
Providing for yourself and your family is a virtue. A primal urge for a lot of teenagers (and 20 somethings, and 30 somethings) is to cut the apron strings that tie them to their parents. They want to be independent, to provide for themselves. Society sees independence as a good thing, because then somebody else won’t have to provide for you. The danger with self-sufficiency is forgetfulness. It will be very easy for you to forget where you came from and that there are others who have not yet come as far as you have.
Helping out others in need is a virtue. If you want to feel warmer this winter without turning up the thermostat, just give away a bunch of stuff to somebody who needs it. They will be grateful, perhaps being able to do things they wouldn’t have done without your help, and you will get that feeling of nobility that comes from doing good without the hope of reward. The downside of helping out others is arrogance. You, in your beneficent magnificence, have condescended to provide assistance to those poor saps who are too stupid to do it for themselves. This perspective is perhaps the most insidious of them all, so watch out for it.
Where are you on the spectrum? Do you like where you are, or do you wish you were somewhere else? Where is the best place to be, and how can you get there?
This post originally appeared in the December 12, 2007, edition of the Greenhorn Valley View.