Let’s talk independence. Not red-white-and-blue liberty, not freedom from oppression or tyranny, not “revolting against the man” upheaval. I mean personally. Let’s talk independence.
I have a confession to make: I’m obsessed with it. Not in an active way, but in the “simmering below the surface” kind of way. It can be said that my feverish, rabid streak of defiant independence is the result of being told too often what to do. Or, it’s the byproduct of overly zealous self-criticism. Probably, it’s both—garnished with a touch of societal expectation that never ceases to undo me. But whatever the cause(s), it’s there in full force, lightly veiled, and balanced only be a commitment to sacrificial self-giving and deference to others. The other’s feelings and thoughts must be respected, whether they impinge on my own boiling need for independence or not. When they leave the room, then I can seethe and punch couches.
This particular less-than-attractive quality came to the fore a few days ago when finances were discussed with someone I trust. Now, to lay things out fairly, I should first say that I initiated the conversation, and that I sought his help—knowing full well that my own stubborn independence had gotten me nowhere. I needed guidance, encouragement, and reinforcement. And, knowing my tendency to aggressively push away when people assume I can’t handle things on my own, I endeavored to pin my frothing independence to the ground. There was more to learn than where nickels and dimes should go, but how to be dependent, how to lean. In my mind, the truth is plain: no man is an island. Somewhere less logical, my emotional psyche says that I can do it all on my own and I don’t need help. So go away.
It was difficult. It was painful. It was downright lip-biting. When people tell me there are things I need to do or should do, my internal (and sometimes vocal) response is: “Don’t you think I’ve thought of that? Don’t you think I’ve already recognized that I lack in that department? I don’t need you to point it out, thank you very much. Stick to your own flaws. I’ve got mine covered.”
But in the more calm, thoughtful moments, I reconsider. While I may have pointed out my own flaws very well to myself, I don’t do it productively. I am not constructive; I condemn. And yes, others bringing them to my attention may heap a less-than-desirable observation on my own internal condemnation, but if it is done with hope and positivity, it can offer the spark for change.
I guess what I’m saying is, for those who know me, the change has to start internally. I recognize intellectually that there is value and merit to the input of others, and that I need to lean on you from time to time. But I have not yet been able to fully disconnect the emotional condemnatory reaction from the simply and constructive comment, “You can do this better. Let me help.”
For those listening, for those who interact with me regularly, I hope you read this both instructively and as a confession. First, know that I know I am fiercely independent and incredibly, sometimes indelibly, flawed in my own eyes. Know that it will take time to move toward a more positive, progressive perspective on my own capacity for good. What I need first, I suppose, is a commitment from myself to work on that, and, incident by incident, word by word, set aside negativity and self-ostracization. Second, I would like you to be aware of this and know that it is often the first step toward progress. Gently identify the crusade for independence, diffuse the angst and anger, and offer an encouraging word about ways I am perfectly able and willing to make myself a better person.
Please don’t misunderstand me—the onus is not on anyone but myself to move into a view of life and self that is hopeful, positive, and productive. But if you wish to know what goes on inside me, then please recognize my tendencies and know that my push-back is not at all of your making, but of my own. Such a sober assessment is ironically in line with the criticisms I am so willing and ready to absorb of myself, but this one is designed to be, ideally, beneficial. Whereas once they stopped at beatings and emotional bruises, now I am working on making them not a statement of self-worth but a realization of potential—that yes, as a human, I am flawed, but as Jeff, I am capable of so much more.
Some of you might say, “Well, isn’t that just the human condition? Don’t we all struggle with this?” Perhaps. But if that is true, then it certainly doesn’t diminish the value of this very personal confession. Hopefully, it only motivates those who read it to engage in the same examination and move forward in ways that are productive for them. And should you need it, I can help.
Last but not least I owe you two things absolutely. First, I’m sorry for the betterment battles you have enlisted to fight on my behalf. Second, thank you turning those battles into peace talks, listening patiently and always being a force of positive change in my life. I couldn’t have done this—or much of anything—without you. Onward to change, and onward to self-redemption.