Scott H Young

The Value of Independence


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There are few virtues more important than independence. Independence is a requirement for leading your own life. How can you make decisions if every action you take has to be filtered through other people first? Without independence, you can’t be the captain of your life. You must be satisfied scrubbing the decks while someone else sets the direction you’re to follow.

Independence doesn’t mean you never need other people. Most people wouldn’t last a year stranded on an island with no other people to provide support. Independence means that you add at least as much value back as you take from every transaction. You don’t leave a permanent debt between you and another person.

Debt is Dependency

When you build a debt with another person, you lose your independence. If you require another person to support you, that person has power over you. They can withdraw their funding based on your actions, effectively controlling your life. Even if they are benevolent, they may unconsciously use their power to influence your decisions.

If your transactions are fair, you retain your independence. I’m not dependent on a grocery store because, if they decide not to feed me, I can take my money elsewhere. Since it is an equal trade, there is no imbalance of power.

Independence is More Than Just Money

The debt that dependency creates doesn’t just have to be in finances. You can be completely financially independent, but entirely socially and intellectually dependent on other people.

Financial independence is important. Requiring money from other people to live isn’t ideal. Even if you are dependent on a spouse, family member or the government for an income, it shouldn’t become a permanent situation.

If everyone became financially dependent on another person, the economy would collapse. Independence isn’t just a personal virtue, it’s a moral virtue. Avoiding debts with other people makes you in control over your own life. Independence also makes you a creator instead of a user. By putting back at least as much as they are taking, independent people ensure the world stays in balance.

Financial independence, and the consequences of financial dependence are easy to understand. It doesn’t take a leap of thinking to realize that if everyone drains more money than they create, the world will collapse.

Social and intellectual independence are harder to see. But, I believe that they are even more important than financial independence. If you are financially dependent, another person has control over your body. They can decide whether you eat or starve. If you are socially or intellectually dependent, another person has control over your mind and soul.

Social Independence

Money isn’t the only currency people use. Sure, it’s the only kind you carry around in your wallet, but it is only one form of transactions. Social currency is another method of transactions. It is the currency of relationships, friendships, loyalty and service to other people.

Just as you can be financially dependent, you can be socially dependent. This means you are emotionally dependent on the opinions of the people around you. You care what other people think of you. Worse, you use their whims and biases as a foundation for making decisions on how to live your life.

Someone who is socially dependent can never be authentic. Instead they must constantly ask themselves whether what they are doing is popular or fashionable. I’m sure we both know people who fit this model. They are the people who care more about being liked than being themselves.

Independence here means the same thing it does with finances. It doesn’t mean you don’t need people and are happy living alone. It simply means that the relationship value you contribute outwards at least equals the value you take away. You aren’t dependent on the opinions of other people because you can just as easily make new friends.

A person who has complete social independence feels free to leave friends and relationships that demand too high a price. Just as a financially independent woman wouldn’t keep shopping at a store where the prices weren’t worth the goods sold, a socially independent man wouldn’t stick with friends who demanded that he become a fake in order to have their friendship.

Intellectual Independence

Intellectual independence is the most important form of independence. While it might not be easy, you can move from a position of social and financial dependence to one of independence. As long as you can make decisions for yourself, you can move closer towards complete independence.

Intellectual dependency is so damaging because, if you are dependent, it is incredibly difficult to break those chains. Intellectual dependency is the equivalent of selling your soul. While you can become a slave in body and in relationships, if you are a slave in the mind, you cease being a consciously deciding human being.

Intellectual dependence happens when you stop thinking for yourself. Instead of filtering ideas through your own powers of reasoning, you accept them blindly. You get caught onto dogma and superstition instead of what is true for you.

I make it no secret that I’m an atheist. But, that isn’t because I follow some secret “Atheist’s Handbook” (if there were such a thing). It’s because after reviewing my personal experiences and my knowledge about the world, that is the best conclusion I can come to. It is the most fulfilling and reasonable answer I can arrive at.

I have far more respect for an ardent religious believer who thought through beliefs for herself, than for another atheist that simply swallowed what he had been told. I might disagree with the content of her beliefs, but I strongly support the method that arrived at them.

Intellectual independence means you are willing to experiment, explore and leave no stone unturned in the search for understanding. You don’t avoid ideas that don’t fit neatly into your worldview, you embrace them. You think through ideas yourself instead of blindly accepting pre-digested facts from other people.

Like all forms of independence, intellectual independence is both a personal and a moral question. Being intellectually dependent is unethical since you are borrowing more thinking power than you are creating. You are using the thoughts of others instead of contributing ideas back to the world.

Independence Through Poverty

Independence is a virtue that takes work. Even if you believe it is important, that doesn’t automatically free you from the chains of debt. Independence is a hard virtue to attain. I strive for it with conviction, but it can be hard to completely avoid dependency. But just because perfection is impossible, that doesn’t mean we should give up.

The way to financial independence is through poverty. Imagine you are currently receiving $20,000 per year in transactions that put you into debt. Now imagine that you also earn another $20,000 in fair transactions that you have earned. You are half-dependent, half-independent with your finances.

The key to financial independence would be to adapt yourself to live on the $20,000. By lowering your poverty threshold, you could survive while being completely independent. Temporary poverty is a key to independence.

I say temporary because while halving your income may be uncomfortable, it gives you power. Now that you are no longer chained to other people, you have increased power to expand your income. You may need to go through a rough patch, but it could easily be a first step to even greater wealth.

I remember reading that Sylvester Stallone, refused money when trying to sell his movie script. He believed that if he started accepting money from a job or the government, it would make him comfortable. Instead of following his dream, he would lose his hunger and settle into a lower quality of life.

The movie script he was trying to sell was Rocky, which went on to make him into a millionaire and famous movie star. By temporarily accepting financial poverty for financial independence, he regained the personal resources to achieve success.

Just as a small clarification, by “debt”, I mean debts you don’t or can’t pay back fully. If you wanted to start a business, that might require taking out a loan or getting investor financing. That doesn’t make you dependent, since you are paying the interest price for funding.

Building Social and Intellectual Independence Through Poverty

The road to social independence is also through poverty. Except in this case, social independence means solitude and loneliness. Few people enjoy complete isolation on a permanent basis. But temporarily sacrificing your social life gives you the power to build new relationships.

I took this step when I was in high school. I distanced myself for most of that time and didn’t form strong connections. I was too dependent on other people’s opinions. Close bonds would have made me follow the crowd instead of my convictions. Temporarily stepping into poverty wasn’t fun, but it was necessary.

Now I’ve completely rebuilt my social circle. I have many friends in different areas and I’m perfectly willing to abandon one group if I need to. I wouldn’t say I have complete social independence, but I’m far closer to that ideal than I was several years ago.

Intellectual independence requires a similar trip through poverty. Instead of giving up finances or friends, you give up knowledge. Intellectual independence means temporarily putting yourself in a position of doubt. You become agnostic about almost everything as you re-evaluate your beliefs.

Although this form of poverty doesn’t seem as extreme as the last two, it is often the hardest to face. It takes a lot of courage to go from a feeling of certainty to one of complete doubt. Most people can’t fully take this step, so they slowly shift from dependence to independence with their ideas.

Independence is a Personal Virtue, Not a Political One

If these ideas sound similar, they should be. Ayn Rand wrote about them (although she wasn’t the first) in The Fountainhead. The book promoted the absolute virtues of independence both in finances, friendships and ideas. The main character, Howard Roark, embodies complete independence, even when it forces him into extreme financial and social poverty.

However, while I agree with Rand’s personal philosophy, I disagree with her political ideals. Independence is important to maintain as a person. But that doesn’t mean we should punish or abandon the people who have difficulty holding this virtue. Being independent doesn’t mean you should abandon the poor, socially weak or intellectually cowardly.

The ultimate ideal is to be independent and use that independence to help other people. Not helping people by making them dependent on you. Helping people by freeing them from their dependencies. Don’t give men fish to eat, teach them how to fish.

Helping someone become independent is much more difficult than just helping them. It’s far easier just to write a check or give compliments. It is much harder to make that person grow. Giving aid without encouraging independence is often worse than not helping at all. When you foster dependency, you are limiting people from their potential.

The value of independence is that it makes you a human being. Dependency requires lowering yourself to a lesser animal, becoming a slave to the people around you. When you have independence, I believe the next step is to encourage the independence of others. Think your own thoughts, live your own life, and help others to do the same.


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28 Responses to “The Value of Independence”

  1. Kali says:

    Great post.

    I already take it for granted that how fully one transitions from certainty (or maybe they just didn’t have that certainty in the first place) to doubt has a bearing on how much independence one has because doubt, darkness whatever you want to call it makes the certainty, brightness that much brighter; but it was interesting when you implied the speed of transition from certainty to doubt has a bearing on how much independence one has. I wonder what factors, if any – besides courage, experience, and stubborness – contribute to this speed…

  2. Bjørn says:

    Great post!
    It’s sad, that not more people share these ideas. Throughout history (and also today), power was built on dependencies of others.

  3. Ryan says:

    What an excellent post Scott. I’m tracking back to my site. Independence also helps to conquer fear.

    Ryan
    lessons in brevity: http://www.mofata.com

  4. Brice says:

    I’m having a tough time swallowing what seems to be a rather whimsical tone toward social relationships. I employ a similar tactic, but it’s definitely not been the most rewarding experience. Do you have any posts that explain your take on social relationships further?

  5. Prasanna Sridharan says:

    FANTASTIC post!
    This post of yours cleared some doubts in my mind about the course of action I am to take in my personal life! of course it is a bit scary!However, the thought of it is exciting!

    Thanks!

  6. Abdullah Siddiqi says:

    And it is because of articles like this that I read scottyoung.com…

  7. Blake says:

    Hey Scott,
    Another great post. I wrote up a quick profile on your contributions and will be sharing with my readers. Thanks for taking the time to write on a subject that should be discussed more.

    A Dissertation on Disillusionment: http://blakeneven.blogspot.com

  8. Rich says:

    Interesting post, but we can’t take independance too far.
    Social: We are social animals that have an inborn desire for approval, and following the crowd on minor matters such as fashion does not matter. Also, it is immoral to simply abandon friends when they are no longer useful if that will hurt them.
    Intellectual: Independance is essential to make good decisions, but obsessive intellectual independance can lead to analysis paralysis.
    Your blog has been very helpful to me, thanks.

  9. Li says:

    Your opinions on social independence really touched me. It’s great that you addressed fear and following the crowd, ultimately making someone unable to live authentically. I think that timid people are more likely to sometimes cling onto a few friendships and then making people disrespect them unsconsciously because they are so dependent on their friend. Also great insight in pointing out the isolation period to reconcile yourself.

  10. Scott Young says:

    The point of independence isn’t to disagree with everyone around you. Becoming a “rebel without a cause” doesn’t make you more independent. There are many points where I’m similar with my friends, part of good relationships comes from having similar values.

    So, Rich, I wouldn’t say independence can be taken too far. But I think it is important to distinguish between independence and disagreeing with everyone.

    Breaking the trend for simple things like fashion or social norms isn’t a sign of independence. Independence means you don’t deviate on the things that are important to you. Unless fashion or a certain type of handshake was important to you, breaking the trends doesn’t make sense.

    Brice,

    Being socially independent means you have the power (even if it is difficult) to leave a group of friends that are having a destructive influence over you. A socially dependent person has to stay with the group.

    Rich,

    I’ll agree there are limitations to the human brain. Outsourcing your thinking to an expert is often necessary. I can’t read and examine the papers for every experiment I want to believe. You need people to make shortcuts.

    Intellectual independence doesn’t mean you have to build your ideas from scratch. It means that you need to have the power to change your ideas when the evidence comes in. If you’re dogmatic or intellectually dependent, you’ll stay committed to the “faith” (not always religion) even when your conscious mind starts detecting errors.

    -Scott

  11. Hi Scott!

    “Intellectual dependence happens when you stop thinking for yourself.”

    Very well phrased. :) Thanks for sharing this article!

    Daniel

  12. Diego says:

    I may be stretching your point here, but this is what I think the Buddha meant when he was talking about non-attachment. It is independence that allows us to pick up the tool we need and then put it down again.

    Scott, thank you again for a great article and a great reminder.

  13. Scott Young says:

    Diego,

    I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch. Attachment can be viewed as another way of looking at dependency, so independence would probably reflect non-attachment. I hadn’t thought of Buddhism writing this, so it’s neat to see the parallel.

    Independence (as it is most commonly understood) is usually downplayed in Eastern philosophies. I’m trying to come up with a better understanding of what independence means to me so that it can still reflect the important parts while avoiding the isolation/contrarian aspects.

    -Scott

  14. Evan Borisenko says:

    Hey Scott,
    wow, that was a great article. I almost can’t believe how well you write. Do you come up with this stuff all by yourself? Or is another source of inspiration other than Rand? Either way, its very impressive writing.

    I’m not entirely convinced that independence is a virtue for everyone to pursue though. Some people are happy just depending on others, and aren’t meant to be in complete control of their own lives. Not everyone on the ship can be the captain, right? There’s more to life than measuring how much you contribute to a relationship, over how much you withdraw. I’d say independence is a personality trait; individuals that don’t have the trait should just strive to improve some other aspect of their lives ( something simple like just being nicer to others, for example).

    Having said that, I’ll admit that your ideas are much better developed and more convincing than mine, and that I think you’re completely right. Especially about intellectual independance- that was a solid paragraph.

    Evan

  15. Scott Young says:

    Evan,

    I don’t believe independence is a personality trait. One of the things I strove for in the article was to clarify independence to avoid many personality specific details.

    Independence, in my opinion, is as much a virtue as compassion, courage, discipline and creativity. Saying it’s a personality trait is a bit like saying that it doesn’t matter whether you’re an asshole or not (lacking compassion) or living in complete fear (lacking courage).

    Ideally, everyone would be independent. But that is according to my philosophy of life, not everyone’s. My philosophy of life is also what makes me a vegetarian, exercise every day and not download music. I don’t push my values onto other people (aside from writing about them), because doing so would violate my need to retain the intellectual independence of other people. However, that doesn’t mean I feel these values are just a matter of opinion and personality tastes.

    To respond to your question, some people certainly might be happy being entirely dependent. In that case, independence doesn’t become a personal requirement for happiness but a moral imperative. Some people might be happy stealing from other people as well, but that doesn’t mean that theft is just a personality quirk.

    Thanks for the comment!

    -Scott

  16. […] weeks ago I wrote about the value of independence. The article was a bit longer than my normal writing, but I felt the topic deserved the extra […]

  17. Dave says:

    Hi Scott

    I congratulate your contribution to higher understanding of human relationships starting with the relationship we have with ourselves.

    I wonder if you would mind sharing a thought with me on a recent experience I had which brought into question our dependency on others within a close relationship.
    I have enjoyed a magnificent relationship with my late wife who had a strong and morally upright character who insisted on excellence from herself and of course myself and two daughters.
    My loss of her has brought me to a place where I fear I grew dependent on her strength and in many ways allowed her to make a host of decisions which steered our family. In her absence I grieve not only her death but my own newfound challenges to be that which she so masterfully accomplished.
    Was I too dependent?

    Your thoughts on this will go a long way to a healthier self exam.

    Kindest regards
    Dave

  18. Scott Young says:

    Dave,

    I think the only people who don’t grieve are those who hadn’t loved. I’m so sorry to hear about your wife, you have my sympathies.

    Steven Covey separates levels of personal growth from “Dependence” up to “Independence” and finally “Interdependence”. Although I used the term “independence” in this article, I strove to talk about the same core concept that Covey meant for interdependence.

    Independence doesn’t mean you never need people. Everyone needs people. But it just means you contribute the same value (financially, socially, intellectually) that you receive from other people. At the highest levels this would mean relying on many people, in relationships where you help them and they help you.

    I can’t comment on your relationship with your late wife. But I think a relationship of interdependence, one where both people relied on each other, but also contributed to each other, is the best relationship you can have.

    Best,
    -Scott

  19. […] The Value of Independence There are few virtues more important than independence. Independence is a requirement for leading your own life. How can you make decisions if every action you take has to be filtered through other people first? Without independence, you can’t be the captain of your life. You must be satisfied scrubbing the decks while someone else sets the direction you’re to follow. […]

  20. Ali says:

    Very bad

  21. Maximilian says:

    Law 40. Despise the Free Lunch (48 Laws)

    The funny thing about debating (generously phrased, arguing is usually a better word to describe the volleys of many people) topics is that in a unified world, a world that is all one – all connected, we result in bickering over priority and semantical differences. It’s the only thing that distinguishes the boundaries between what we imagine, what makes our words their descriptions, and how we can come to convey our thoughts to others toward the desired end of feeling validated.

    If you’re not already involving the concepts within the 48 Laws of Power, and my paranoia suggests you are, (it seems appropriate since your About Me page details your newfound interest in interpersonal politics) I’d suggest revising the approach to Law 34. The transgression of that law (a la Louis-Phillipe, Duke of Orléans) seems to be the path you’re possibly on at the moment.

    In more immediate matters, I personally would never suggest poverty as a means to independence. True power is had by making others feel powerful. Ever hear of the power behind the throne? It’s Law number 1. Why is networking relevant to start with? For the fact having many powerful supporters makes us most powerful of all (e.g. Oprah). I’m a big fan of Survivor Samoa. It’s a microcosmic example of society at large. We’re all in it for ourselves underneath it all, yet to get that end we must work together and have some sense of decorum. Assuming one is that anti-socially prideful they must do everything themselves (as was George Washington rejecting the help of France and other countries, thinking to solidify America’s position as an independent country), a far more comfortable path would be to proceed in the styling of Dr. Oz. who kissed Oprah’s tail as a very amicable addition to her show for roughly 7 years before she was so overwhelmed she gave him his own show. In the same way she gave Dr. Phil a show after he helped her out of that legal scrape suggesting she defamed cattlemen and their habits with beef. Taking a supporting role of a high flier is far more lucrative position than scrounging until our long awaited crowning day. Once you have the faith of that high flier, they pull you into the stratosphere with them. No ramen noodles required.

    To win at Survivor, we portray the consummate citizen. We must be uplifting, likable, and neutral (nonthreatening). Then, when we’re approached in private with a scheme we play along, offering no ideas of our own, a proper pawn. Thus people see value in our being around, they envision us as a contribution to their cause and completely harmless as we’ve demonstrated no scheming ways of our own, thereby our tact grants us a social foundation of impunity. As long as we retain plausible deniability and ergo neutrality within the group we can go along with schemes unscathed.

    Applying this to actual life. We need to look at the reality of our station. What’s our ethnic background? Where do we best fit in? What’s our niche? Then we look at the most powerful players (corporations) in the field and study which approach grants us the highest probability in. Then we make our superiors (and their superiors) shine like the burning hot flame of 1,000 suns. After we get enough support, exposure to business co-partners, and collect enough people in the field who genuinely have faith in us, owe us (by their own concession) and above all generally want to see us succeed, we use the knowledge gained in the corporation to start our own business and we plug into all of the resources we’ve gained during our employment. To all probability the outcome is favorable. An excellent showcase of Law 13.

    It’s a daunting book but it is the chief set of principles to consider if control and power is our aim. If you’ve read the book but can’t see a proper application, I’d suggest reading or downloading the ebook of Robert Greene’s newer book, the 50th law.

    The 48 Laws has a very Machiavellian writing style. It feels evil, yet to have absolute control over everything in our world is about as evil as it comes (Hitler too wanted to shape their world as he saw fit). To be so fearful as to need that much control is evil in itself. Better to stick with the way of the Arete you’ve coined. Then using little tips and tricks from the laws can help us figure out those unfortunate souls who do worry for that level of control and what power we attain through service, benevolence, and humbleness (although honoring our legitimate power of position and not pretending to be something we’re not – which alienates our crowd) can be properly exercised under our own sound judgment and functioning moral compass.

  22. Well said Scott! Freeing yourself from others and helping others free themselves into a independent human-being.

  23. LYR says:

    Hi, i greatly value independence. I believe that one should also aim to be materially independent which is being able to be free of material goods which are unnecessary. In essence, stick to simple living like Gandhi or Buddha. Amid fierce advertising, many people are preoccupied with possession of material goods such as Gucci handbags and Louis Vuitton shoes even when there are many cheaper close substitutes. As such, they stress themselves unnecessarily, leading to unhappiness. They believe that acquiring material goods is the key to happiness. Once we achieve material independence, we are easily financially independent considering how cheap necessities like food, water, toiletries are today. Furthermore, we are no longer obsessed with protecting our possessions or worried about losing things.

  24. Kalpak says:

    Hi Scott..

    Very nice article. Just 2 points…

    1. Ayn Rand’s personal philosophy:
    Ayn Rand’s personal independence philosophy is expanded in Atlas Shrugged. The Fountainhead is fairly limited in scope. Inter-dependence is one of the prime topics in Atlas Shrugged.

    2. Atheism:
    Organized religion requires an obligation-based approach. Hinduism too has fallen prey to it to an extent. Atheism, Agnostism, Monotheism, and many other ideas have been acceptable in Hinduism far earlier. Since, it was a Way of Life than a religion.

    In Hindu philosophy, the Rig Veda (sacred text composed roughly between 1700–1100 BC) takes an agnostic view on the fundamental question of how the universe and the gods were created. Nasadiya Sukta (Hymn of Creation) in the tenth chapter of the Rig Veda says:

    Who really knows?
    Who will here proclaim it?
    Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation?
    The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe.
    Who then knows whence it has arisen?

    Throughout the history of Hinduism there has been a strong tradition of philosophic speculation and skepticism. It is unfortunate, that organized religion elements come in and destroy such ethos, and must be countered.

    Best,
    Kalpak

  25. Kira says:

    “If you require another person to support you, that person has power over you.”
    YES!!
    I am glad that someone has the exact same take on dependence as I do, the ignorance of housewives on “feminist” blogs is draining at times. eg: “i have an equal relationship with my husband”….NO YOU DON’T. Most of your freedom in life is there because he permits it, I know this because I remember being 17…I had inner independence, I was respected and loved, my parents gave me a great deal of freedom, but since I was dependent on them for survival from having no income, did I have any control over my life? Only a little. I think it is irresponsible to NOT be self sufficient, especially if you have children, if you can’t support yourself you have no business caring for others.
    Have you heard of Half The Sky? The writers also recognise that education and economic empowerment for women are necessary to set women free and stop poverty, like even if it doesn’t always change men’s attitudes women can still leave them and teach their sons to treat women as equals.
    I will definitely link this when I’m making an argument for independence, although I see inner (social/intellectual) and outer (financial) independence as equally important.

  26. Kira says:

    Sorry to double post but I just have to say that it pisses me off when people think independence is a “western myth” because 1) there is such a thing as independence, but it doesn’t mean you don’t need anyone and 2) it is not an exclusively “Western” value, the countries with the fastest growing percentages of one-person households are India, China and Brazil…Brazil’s western-ness is questionable but India and China are not western yet independence is valued more now.

  27. Joy says:

    Very insightful Scot. Great post.

  28. […] A dissenting view: Scott H. Young […]

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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