As do virtually all societies, American society rightly esteems self-reliance as one of its core values. Indeed, the collective strength of a given community depends in large measure on the individual fortitude of its citizens. However, this idea can be carried to an extreme.
For instance, does self-reliance require that a person “tough out” a broken arm or a case of hepatitis rather than seek medical treatment? To the contrary, most would question the judgment of such an individual (we might even call him ‘crazy’) for failing to consult a doctor under such conditions.
Likewise, are people who visit a library deemed to lack self-reliance? After all, they are in need of additional information, and clearly lack knowledge (or excitement, if they’re after leisure reading) of one sort or another. What is it, after all, that they don’t know, and why can’t they just be happy with what their brain provides? Hopefully, the absurdity of such thought is attested to by the fact that none of us ever has them.
In most cases, accessing resources in the community that will improve our condition is viewed positively and does not detract from our sense of independence. Instead, it implicitly suggests that we know how to best meet our needs…a good working definition of self-reliance.
When it comes to seeking help for personal problems, however, the rules mysteriously change. Whereas a person is crazy if he doesn’t get help for his broken arm, he is crazy if he seeks counseling for his broken heart. Consulting a library to gather more ‘food’ for your head is ok whereas consulting a mental health provider is a sure sign your head isn’t quite right. Society has created a double standard which sanctions services for the physical body but stigmatizes help for the mind and spirit.
The truth is, when it comes to self-reliance, accessing needed help – be it from a doctor, librarian, or counselor – does not detract from our internal fortitude. It is an indication of strength and flexibility, suggesting that we know how to take care of ourselves.
Naturally, we do not consult a doctor for every problem (e.g., a stuffy nose or backache); we show good judgment by using over-the-counter medications as needed. Nor does a lack of information send us scurrying off to the library at every turn, for a dictionary or encyclopedia can answer many of our questions.
Likewise, a therapist is not needed for problems that can be solved via help and support from friends and family members. When professional help is needed, however, it is every bit as critical to improving the quality of one’s life as is medical treatment.
Unfortunately, I have known many cases where individuals have ignored grave symptoms in relationships, refused to enter counseling because of their pride, and ended up with emotional gangrene…or worse: amputation. Those who demonize psychiatric help are often those most in need of its services.
Self-reliance is not synonymous with total independence from others; instead, it includes selective reliance on them. It involves knowing how to access needed resources and using them in a responsible way.
In most cases, counseling is a temporary “recharging station” on the road of life rather than a resort where you spend an extended vacation. It is not for crazy people but for those who choose to improve the quality of their lives rather than continue to suffer with the status quo. Such people are among those searching for more information at the library. You’ll know them by the casts on their arms.