Friday, November 04, 2011

Statements of Independence

Independent judgment is both a personality trait, a distinctive way of thinking and acting, and a character trait, a moral conviction in the face of opposition or indifference to stand by one’s beliefs and values. A number of writers in their own nuanced ways have captured the gist of these traits.

The late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computer, offers in his Stanford Commencement Address of 2005 (1, 2) an eloquent statement of independence:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
Follow your own thoughts and emotions, Jobs is saying. Don’t give in to the edicts and requests of others.

Psychiatrist William Glasser in Positive Addiction (p. 3) ties independence to happiness:

As we grow, we should learn to judge for ourselves what is worthwhile, but it takes a great deal of strength to do what is right when few people will agree with us for doing it. Most of us spend our lives in a series of compromises between doing what we believe in and doing what will please those who are important to us. Happiness depends a great deal on gaining enough strength to live with a minimum of these compromises.
It is these compromises to please others, Glasser says, that create unhappy relationships and lead us to seek compensating behaviors, such as anxiety and depression, or worse. Strength to say “yes” to ourselves and “no” to possibly too-demanding and probing others is the path to happiness.

Daniel Greenberg, founder of  the Sudbury Valley School, ties independence to the free society (The Crisis in American Education, p. 54):
Dependence, not independence, is the quality most suitable to authoritarian states. . . . The hallmark of the independent man is the ability to bear responsibility. To be responsible and accountable for one’s actions. To do, and to stand up for what one has done. Not to hide behind “superior orders,” not to seek shelter in group decisions, and to take strength from some heroic figure—but to be one’s own man.
The self-reliant and self-responsible individual, Greenberg is saying, does not unquestioningly take orders from authority. The citizen of a free society exhibits a healthy distrust of anyone in power.

Ayn Rand, by way of Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged (p. 1019), places the source of independent judgment in one’s own mind:
Independence is the recognition of the fact that yours is the responsibility of judgment and nothing can help you escape it—that no substitute can do your thinking, as no pinch-hitter can live your life . . .
No one, in other words, can get inside our heads to make us do our own thinking or, for that matter, make us not think. Perception, judgment, decision making, and action all originate within our minds. Control of our lives, then, is internal. Letting others “pinch hit” for us is to allow them to do our thinking.

What encourages us to become independent? How can our children develop it? Perhaps Summerhill School founder, A. S. Neill, states the conditions best (Summerhill, p. 9):
Free children are not easily influenced; the absence of fear accounts for this phenomenon. Indeed, the absence of fear is the finest thing that can happen to a child.
By “free child,” Neill means one whose rights as an individual are respected by other children and adults in both home and school, and one who respects the rights of other children and adults in both home and school. Otherwise, the child is free to do whatever he or she desires, that is, is free of authoritarian edicts and bossing and bullying by others. Not surprisingly, Neill also ties independence to the free society as an essential requirement.

Independence and happiness require freedom because freedom produces independence. And independence makes happiness possible.

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