Scott H Young

Social Independence


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Two 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 length. A number of readers here must have agreed with me, because it was one of the most commented on articles in the last few months.

In the article, I argued that independence was necessary for both a happy life and a moral one. I claimed that financial independence was important, but it was only one step. Social and intellectual independence had even bigger ramifications, even though they were harder to recognize. The issue of social independence raised a lot of questions in the comments, so I’d like to address that idea today.

What is Social Independence?

Independence means that the amount of value you take from other people is equal to or less than the amount of value you put back. It doesn’t mean you don’t need other people. And it doesn’t mean you avoid other people’s help. Although those are associations to the word independence, I’m not referring to those aspects. Being a lone wolf or hermit isn’t the goal of independence.

Think of someone who is financially independent. Unless they grow their own crops, sew their own clothes and build their own computers from silicon in the ground, they still need other people. I doubt Bill Gates would survive with a homemade spear on a desert island. So financial independence doesn’t mean you don’t need other people.

What Bill Gates does have is (at least in theory) is an equal balance of trade. The amount of money he earns is greater than or equal to the money he spends. He doesn’t need the government, family or friends to write him a check. In fact, he gives away some of his wealth to philanthropic organizations, making his case the opposite of financial dependence.

Social independence is exactly the same idea, except there isn’t any money involved. Money is a medium for exchanging material wealth. Relationships don’t have a physical currency, but value is still exchanged between people. Being part of groups can give love, security, friendship and support. In many ways, social currency has a much higher value than dollars and cents.

Social Independence Doesn’t Mean Solitude

Socially independent people still need friends. However, someone who is socially independent contributes at least as much social value as they take in from other people. More importantly, they recognize their contribution and don’t allow other people to swindle them on social transactions.

A financially independent person would immediately exit any relationship where one person was cheating her. If she were being swindled on her grocery bill, she would shop at a different store. She wouldn’t be compelled to stay in a relationship that robs her in one way by making her dependent in another.

Similarly a socially independent person wouldn’t stay in a relationship where friendship and trust were violated. He would recognize his value and leave any destructive relationships, confident that he could make healthier ones. He wouldn’t be dependent on the opinions of other people to make decisions important to him. If he wanted to start a business, he wouldn’t allow peer pressure to push him into a job he didn’t like.

Levels of Independence

Independence isn’t an all-or-nothing quality. You can have different levels of social, financial or intellectual independence. You may be in complete and hopeless debt to someone, or you may simply have a small deficit.

This is, once again, easier to see with financial independence. In a scale from complete dependency to complete independence, you would probably these people along the spectrum:

  • The Beggar. This person is completely dependent on other people to survive. If he didn’t receive regular income from other people, he would probably die.
  • The Mooch. This person contributes some value back to society, but takes a lot more. He accepts debts he won’t pay back and relies on friends and governments to maintain his lifestyle.
  • The Replaceable Employee. This person may have some debts, but otherwise contributes as much as she earns. However, her boss could replace her at any time, and she doesn’t have many other means to support herself.
  • The Independent Entrepreneur. This person contributes at least as much value as she takes. She also has many different income sources so no one person holds power over her. Also at this level of the spectrum would be freelancers with different clients or employees with skills that allow them to easily find work.
  • The Philanthropist. This person doesn’t just use his abundance to cover his debts. He uses it to encourage the independence of other people. He wouldn’t support initiatives that chain people to him, but actively seeks ways to encourage other people to become more independent.

Similarly, social independence has a spectrum from complete dependence to total independence.

  • The Loner. This person is completely reliant on the few friends he does have for social support. If they left, he would be completely alone, which is unthinkable to him. As a result, he would do almost anything to keep their favor.
  • The Wimp. This person contributes value back to her group, but she makes too many concessions to support her relationships. She makes radical changes to her life to accommodate the whims and opinions of friends and family, when they would not do the same for her.
  • The Generic Friend. This person contributes value back to his group, but is dependent on one group for all social support. He also lacks the skills or confidence to make new friends, should this group leave him.
  • The Independent Socializer. This person has many friends and is confident of her ability to navigate her social life. Any relationships that drain her are abandoned for equal transactions. She has close friends and relationships, but is confident that she could form new ones if these people were disloyal to her.
  • The Social Enabler. This person takes social independence to the final level. Not only does he have complete social independence, but he uses that independence to break other people of their dependencies.

Financial independence, as it is easier to measure, is a lot more common than social independence. I would argue that most people are not socially independent and many are far into the range of moderate and complete dependency. I have met a few people who could be described as socially independent, and almost none who fully complete the spectrum.

Why is Social Independence So Difficult?

It’s easy to know if someone is swindling you. You can check the prices. Money is regulated. There are many laws preventing people from cheating you out of money. Our societal structure encourages economic independence. Independence is necessary for economic health, so society usually pushes people to become more independent.

Social independence doesn’t run on the same fuel. As a result, there is less pressure to move people up the ladder of social independence. So most of the people who do have a degree of independence, developed it unconsciously. In many cases, being popular and staying loyal to untrustworthy friends is actually promoted.

Social independence is also more difficult because social currency is more valuable than money. Beyond a minimum poverty threshold, money just buys luxuries. But, many people are currently in a social poverty, where they don’t feel that the basic needs of friendship, love and security are being met. As a result, many people are willing to chain themselves to social dependence just to meet those basic needs. If you were starving to death, you probably wouldn’t have as many scruples about stealing enough bread to survive.

Valuing the Independence You Don’t Possess

I’m not at the level of complete independence in any category. I consider independence to be extremely important, but I recognize my own shortcomings and dependencies. But just because I haven’t reached the highest pinnacles of this value, doesn’t mean I can’t climb towards it.

Once you recognize the importance of something, you have the power to work towards it. If you don’t consider your health to be important, chances are you’re going to end up weak and overweight. By seeing your shortcomings towards something that is important, you can put effort into changing it. I’ve made a lot of progress towards independence in all areas, once I recognized how important it was to me.

Independence Is Power Over Yourself

Independence is a form of power. Except, instead of power over other people, it means power over yourself. Power over other people is opposite to total independence, since it is pushing others towards dependency. Without independence, you’re enslaved to whatever provides for you. With independence, you’re free.


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39 Responses to “Social Independence”

  1. Chris says:

    What’s your view on popularity and how it fits into your idea of social independence?

    On one hand it seems like a popular person would have an easy time achieving social independence by having the tools to make new friends easily.

    But you also said “In many cases, being popular and staying loyal to untrustworthy friends is actually promoted.”, implying popularity should be avoided.

    Do you think see it as bad? Or bad if it’s a certain type of popularity (i.e., where you’re dependent on the one group who looks up to you, or feeling you have to be looked up and that you need to climb social circles in general)?

  2. Gary says:

    My awareness has now expanded, thank you Scott.

    I also am disturbed as I realize I’m a moocher!

  3. Scott Young says:

    Chris,

    Popularity is great, it’s nice to have people like you. The question is what you do to achieve that popularity. If it involves becoming inauthentic in order to be better liked, you’ve traded popularity for social independence. A bad trade, in my opinion.

    My comment in the article could have used some refinement.

    Gary,

    We’re all moochers and beggars at some point. I think what is important is having the desire to improve.

    -Scott

  4. Diego says:

    Scott,

    You also touched on something that runs as a kind of invisible thread through your post; the inverse (reverse?) of independence is slavery, and the ugly truth is that when we lack independence, we practice a kind of slavery that works on the master no less than the slave.

    Now I have to go back and see where or if you talked about habits of thinking because I am pretty sure it is my thinking that gets stuck in patterns that reinforce my dependence.

  5. Rich says:

    Really cool post, never thought of a hierarchy of social styles like this. I may be decieving myself, but I think I’m an independant socializer having gone through all the previous stages. I don’t really understand how to be a social enabler. Is that like giving people the confidence to be independant? Can you be specific about what an enabler does?

    Thanks,

  6. Scott Young says:

    Rich,

    Being a social enabler would help give people confidence, and also push them to take more control over their social lives. I think often it is an indirect role, something that happens when you are completely independent yourself.

  7. [...] exploring the idea of how to become more social, expanding on the ideas as I’ve written about them before.  You might want to bookmark this post if you don’t have time to read it all [...]

  8. richard says:

    Hi Scott,
    Do you know you’ve got an advert above your comments and below the post that says “Popular Prick”? Maybe you do, just incase i thought id let you know.

  9. richard says:

    i think its one of those rotating google ads, i reloaded twice, it was there twice and the 3rd time it changed?

  10. Scott Young says:

    richard,

    Yes… it’s a Google AdSense ad, there must have been a recent spike in the keywords.

    I’m trying to phase out advertisements on the website as a revenue source, but I haven’t done it completely. My advice is that if you don’t like an ad, don’t click on it. They go away if people don’t click on them. If you REALLY don’t like an ad, send me an email and I can look at banning it directly. As for the “popular prick” ad, I’m not a fan of the title, but it is relevant to the topic at least, so I’m not going to ban it yet.

    Thanks for the feedback,
    -Scott

  11. Aaron Agassi says:

    May I respectfully suggest that a better title for The Social Enabler might be The Social Facilitator or something of that nature, because the word: ‘Enablement’ has taken on a somewhat foul connotation, as in the enabler of a liar, drunk or bully.

    As for Popular Prick, he has had his say and now I will have mine. Know more at: http://www.FooolQuest.com/alien.htm#fit

  12. Scott Young says:

    Aaron, I hadn’t thought of that connotation. To me, enable is a rough synonym for empower, although I can see where you might get the wrong impression.

  13. [...] exploring the idea of how to become more social, expanding on the ideas as I’ve written about them before.  You might want to bookmark this post if you don’t have time to read it all [...]

  14. [...] exploring the idea of how to become more social, expanding on the ideas as I’ve written about them before.  You might want to bookmark this post if you don’t have time to read it all [...]

  15. Ain't Gone Yet says:

    SO how do you go about improving from being beggars to being socially independant? Right now, I think I have fallen in a bottom-less pit of depression, just because I realised that for my ‘friends’ I am completely replaceable. I am in a situation where I have been meeting the same group of people for the 3rd year running, and there remain 2 more years to go, as I need to finish this 5-year course.

    The problem, I think, is communication. I am plain boring – there I said it. How do you make youself less boring? All the others seem to find it easy to talk about meaningless things; I find it extremely difficult. Any tips please?

    Also: How do you prevent yourself from letting your feelings hinder you from doing things? I seem to waste a lot of time when I am depressed because no one took any notice of me.

    When the friends I used to hang out with seem to disappear – they all seemed to have found other friends, but it seemed I haven’t clicked with anyone yet – how do I get myself to talk to other people when I know/ think that they will think that I am doing that only because I have no one else to talk to? I have feelings of guilt that make me think that the others think I am using them – I have passed from experiences where others used me, and I don’t want anyone to pass from that too.

    Just some words of advice or encouragement are welcome: and if it is possible to link to some articles which might help me strike a good conversation, that would be awsome!!! Sorry for the long post, but thanks for the good read – it has provided some enlightment wrt my situation.

  16. Aaron Agassi says:

    Despite the slightly awkward and tin-eared sound, “empowerer,” then, would be most correct. And though spellchecker rejects the that conjugation, nevertheless with Google I do find the term in use.

  17. Scott Young says:

    Aaron,

    The point of my writing is to convey an idea. Usually this means staying within the established conventions of grammar and spelling, but creating my own language conventions is sometimes necessary to easily communicate a point. Content can’t be at the mercy of delivery.

    Ain’t Gone Yet,

    There are plenty of articles about socializing, but honestly, all the reading in the world won’t help if you don’t make a plan of action. Something simple like scheduling more time to go to places where you can meet people, or making a deliberate effort to be friendly can help.

    Best of luck with your situation, I hope you can find the solutions to your problems!

    -Scott

  18. Anna says:

    Ain’t Gone Yet,

    You should look into a social coach if you’re looking for more guidance. Not sure where you’re at, but there’s one in San Francisco: http://www.wisersocializer.com.

    Good luck.

  19. joshua says:

    he scott,
    thanks for this great blog, i’ve been walking around with this idea of social independence and searching around if other people also think like that, now im actually sad that i’m not the special only one who thinks this way haha. anyway it means i’ve got to work on my social independence. thanks

  20. me says:

    Great post!

  21. Louche says:

    “Value” is such a vague term here, I’m thinking “Christian values”… yeah, that doesn’t tell me anything. “Value” could be exploiting others, for all I know. There are plenty of “financially independent” people who don’t create much I would consider valuable to anyone.

    That said… I am not a very *productive* person… I don’t believe in half the things I produce… and that’s possibly a huge understatement.

  22. Sumiyyah says:

    Hey Scott!

    Great post! What I took from your blog is that we have to first of all value ourselves for all the right reasons and not take ourselves so seriously. But I do have a question for you. What if we do something nice for a close relative and yet they don’t appreciate it. Isn’t the blame on their side because I am doing this act of kindness not for them but for myself so if they don’t appreciate it I don’t lose anything but they do. How would you look at this situation.

    Thanks again.

  23. Really interesting post, and a unique perspective on things.

    For me, having Asperger’s Syndrome I have been trying to build a social life from about the age of 20. I’m now 28, and have number of friends from different places. I go to events run by a local social networking group I discovered online, and that has enabled me to meet many new people and types that I wouldn’t otherwise ever have bumped into which is great. I’m always working to develop friendships and I thus analyse the social dynamics of situations, and thinking about social independence or dependence adds another perspective to the issue.

    You’ve given me some inspiration for my future posts on my blog, which is at http://socialdynamicsas.blogspot.com and gives my thoughts and analysis of social situations.

  24. Gabriel says:

    Scott,

    You did slide a great point in there about how the world works, a constant exchange of value.

    The most common value people get and receive, is money. You are given the value of money for your value of your work.

    In this case, social dynamics interaction, it is a positive exchange of emotions and stimuli.

    People who don’t need these positive emotions and stimuli, but gives them to other people are as what you said being socially independent.

    That is how people will get addictive to you because you are constantly stimulating positive emotions in them.

  25. Lou says:

    Independence is really an inaccurate word here because no one is 100% socially or financially independent unless they are, as you say, a hermit. And I agree with you that being a hermit is usually not a good thing on the whole. In fact, socially and financially independent are oxymorons since society and finances are inherently about interdependence.

    Other than that, which is, I admit, a matter of semantics, I agree with most of your post. But I am more socially independent than financially independent, I think. I’m somewhat of a moocher, but I’m working on it. It’s because I don’t have a lot of self-discipline, I’m still trying to get my B.A., and I feel like I just have so much core stuff to work on before I can live efficiently. I’m lucky I have friends! I stayed a bit too long, without asking, in the last place I was living because I couldn’t find another place to live and procrastinated on it (but it’s hard!)… but I didn’t want them to see me as a moocher, so even though again, as they were my friends, they never asked me to pay for the extra time I stayed there, I paid anyway… and I’m more broke because of it, but c’est la vie, hein ? But hopefully they don’t think so bad of me because they now have more money in their pockets than they anticipated. And now I’m staying with a friend in his apartment trying to find an affordable long-term place, and he’s not asking me to pay anything.

    As far as social “independence,” I am probably a generic friend. I do lack skills to build new friendships quickly, and most of my friendships are like, we just see each other by happenstance, say we’ll hang out and never do. I have some skills for making new friends, but it could be much better. I’d like to be a social enabler, though I’m not sure how that works? I guess if you’re a community organizer, huh? Dunno!

    I don’t want to be a philanthropist, though. I don’t like that word, and I do NOT agree that what we call philanthropists are always financial enablers… a lot of philanthropy is based on the idea that oh, there are these poor poor people who we can feel so great about helping to justify our obnoxious wealth while attacking all notions of socialism… make them dependent upon “philanthropists” who deem them worthy. Why is it that government assistance gets a bad rap and makes people moochers, but philanthropy is the height of nobility and “financial independence”?

  26. “I don’t want to be a philanthropist, though.”

    I’m curious what you think the point of money is, if not giving to others and helping other people. This statement is baffling.

    “I do NOT agree that what we call philanthropists are always financial enablers”

    Now we’re actually debating the English language. Amazing, if someone who gives money away, and invests in improving Educational systems in foreign countries isn’t a financial enabler, then what is?

    “… a lot of philanthropy is based on the idea that oh, there are these poor poor people who we can feel so great about helping to justify our obnoxious wealth while attacking all notions of socialism”

    You should read Bill Gates Sr’s book. These are quite literally the richest people on Earth, and they advocate higher taxes. How does that work? Maybe they’re not hypocrites after all?

    “… make them dependent upon “philanthropists””

    Wow. Ever heard the expression ‘teach a man to fish and you feed him for life?’ … Oprah building schools in Africa, what a bitch, eh?

    “Why is it that government assistance gets a bad rap and makes people moochers, but philanthropy is the height of nobility and “financial independence”?”

    I know that was supposed to be clever, but let me answer your question:

    Receiving welfare gets a bad rap, Giving Welfare doesn’t.

  27. If you look at the most successful people, all of them are philanthropist, they already have everything they want and just giving. So thing goes for being a social philanthropist, and you will have more people wanting to be a part of your in your life than you can handle.

  28. James says:

    curious where I’d fall on your ladder (I seem to fit somewhat in a few places that are far a part) and what would be your tips for moving up.

    Grew up a loner, largely due to being picked on to an extreme as a kid. Branched out a bit in high school, but then went through some bad experiences and went into my shell. Started to come back out again in college, but went through some health issues and went back into my shell and have pretty much stayed there even though the health issues are over.

    I have a job with good status and pay, own my own home, have paid off my college (but not mortgage) debt and I’m not even 30. I only have maybe 3 people I would consdier real friends, and on average I probably only see them 2x/year each. I’m mostly a loner, but when I want to go out and am able to push my self to do so (I’m very introverted/shy) I am able to attend and engage in activity with familiar faces, but less so with unfamiliar faces and rarely talk to the people outside of the activity (even during the same night). Have taught a number of people some of the social skills used in these settings, but find that I’m often used in doing so and they are no longer friendly once they are confident in their ability to mingle with others and have essentially taken what they want from me.

    Don’t spend a lot of effort on it, but have been complimented on my style and am in decent shape, somewhat active in sports – looking to return to high level competition in a few. Have never had a gf or even kissed anyone.

    Part of the above was due to working three jobs so I recently quit the two part times and rearranged my schedule in a way that will free up more time and make it easier for my schedule to be in sync with my peers (large pay cut, but it’s worth it if I can fix things, and I’ll still be doing alright, but will have to watch my spending more closely)

    I’m also very kind and well mannered, probably to a fault. I think people see me as too vanilla.

    Priority, is to get out more, get over my shyness, expand my social circle, stay in closer touch with my friends and start dating again (no dates in at least 3 years, and have probably only dated about 5 women in my lafe – and by dated I mean even a single date. haven’t done a whole lot of asking lately, but when I do I either get a flat no, or more often a yes followed by and unexplaned no show and changed/blocked number – and usually I haven’t used it before so it
    s not like I’m badgering them and they blocked me out of annoyance).

  29. Maya says:

    Absolutely brilliant! Where can I learn more about this?

  30. Kalpak says:

    Hi Scott,

    Great post!

    A good self-help source to move up this ‘hierarchy’ is Your Erroneous Zones by Dr. Wayne Dyer. Check it out… :-)

    Best,
    Kalpak

  31. Hanouf says:

    Hi Scott,

    My idea of being socially independent is not to be one. Being social is a burden because I have to be supportive all the way, which is a good thing but sometimes I fall short of capacity to be sincere. Mostly all what I want is communication, rarely a true serendipity, something that might break the silence or the intense pressure of my day.

    While living on my own make me always feel like I have to do more for you as a friend rather than being with you not helping.

    Thank you for your time,
    Hanouf

  32. Kira says:

    Lou did you even read the article? Independence doesn’t mean you don’t need other people , etc etc? Also I think that the philantrophist thing doesn’t mean giving handouts such as welfare, but instead things like giving money to help people start businesses (microfinance) or giving to organisations that help people get educations. Charity Navigator is a good place to research.
    So I see that I am a Moocher on the financial scale, except for the debt thing, because I only work part time (for now), and an Independent Socialiser on the social scale. It’s amazing how leaving school stops you from caring about what other people think and teaches you who your real friends are.

  33. MaSh says:

    This was just the information I was looking for. A friend group abandoned me, but this helped me realize I was depending too much on their continued friendship to define my self worth… I need to be more socially independent.

  34. Wan says:

    Something for me to think about. I’m not that dependent to others but I can’t enable others to achieve the same independence.

  35. Krey says:

    ” This person contributes value back to her group”

    What does value pertain to here?
    I don’t really get it. Could you please cite a few examples.

    Also what are the signs of social independence other than the fact that you can leave any of the relationships behind?

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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