Reflections On Independence

The blind leading the blindfolded.— We allow the state to decide for us, not because we believe the state knows what is best — practical results consistently prove beyond any doubt that the state does not know — but because we have been convinced that we do not know, and therefore that the easiest course of action is to leave the complex decisions, the considerations “above our pay grade,” to others. And who convinced us of this? The state, of course — the state, which does not know.

The universal phobia.— Saying what you believe to be true, even when you know others will not approve, and when you thus stand to lose the various perceived advantages of social acceptance and the safety of the shared cause, seems monumentally, even insurmountably, difficult — until you do it. In this regard, independence may be seen as the universal phobia. Like other phobias, overcoming it may require considerable pain, anxiety, and repeated, sometimes terrifying failures; and hiding from those inescapable hardships, rather than facing them, is always the most immediately attractive path — which of course only reinforces the irrational fear. As with other phobias, however, the world on the other side of that frightening obstacle, if one is finally able to marshal the strength to face the demon alone, is liberating and empowering. I have helped a few students overcome debilitating phobias over the years, and have seen this dynamic play out at close range. Having broken through the emotional wall at last, one may feel almost addicted to encountering the very activity or condition that had previously filled one with paralyzing dread. Speaking your mind, especially when you know that doing so will place you at odds not merely with an abstract “outside world,” but rather with your immediate surroundings or fellows — and speaking your mind not as a smug performance, but as a simple will to truth — can have this addictively joyful quality, once one overcomes the irrational (but all too human) fear of stigma and rejection. It is the joy of freedom.

Two roads.— The intellectual kinship of true friends is related to independent adulthood as the emotional comfort of pleasant companions is related to dependent childhood. Each social relationship both mirrors and fosters its corresponding state of the soul. The child needs to belong, as a matter of physical survival, and his pleasant companionships help to pave the way in. The adult needs to separate himself, as a matter of spiritual survival, and his true friendships help to pave the way out.

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