February 26, 2021

The Limits of Self-Sufficiency



Americans hold tightly to the belief we are self-sufficient. With enough "grit" we can accomplish almost anything. "Pulling oneself up by the bootstraps" has an almost religious sound to it. Work hard and our future is assured. There is nothing we can't accomplish, both as a country and as individuals.

If nothing else, the past 12  months of Covid should make us wonder if that is still true (if it ever was!). Our need for others has come into sharp focus. Our ability to earn a living is pretty tightly wrapped up in what's going on in the rest of the world. The ability to protect ourselves from some of the ravages of illness or poor health habits is not as much under our control as we once thought.

The belief in our self-sufficiency has been built on tales of rugged pioneers, explorers, and cattlemen (women's contributions were basically ignored), opening up the west and overcoming hostile conditions.  A native population who resisted being ejected from their own lands had to be displaced, moved, or eliminated. Manifest Destiny was granted by a supportive god. 

Industrialists, inventors, real estate moguls, and a government/tax structure designed for maximum exploitation helped create the legend of self-made people.
Technology advances, lax environmental regulations, and the safety offered by thousands of miles of ocean between us and possible invaders allowed America to achieve more than many others.  It is no wonder we have developed this self-sufficient attitude, a belief we are capable of anything and everything. 

Certainly, for the past year, America has been forced to face an uncomfortable truth: the concept of self-sufficiency no longer works as well in today's world. A pandemic doesn't read the history books, hear the stories, respect national borders, or even 3,000 miles of ocean.

We have learned of the importance of so many people and activities we had taken for granted for far too long. The catchphrase, "essential workers,"  now includes many who were once regarded as invisible. The people who stock the shelves at the store, drive the delivery trucks, check us out at the register have been vitally important since last March. They have literally risked their lives to keep us fed and clothed, have gas for the car, and keep medicines on the shelves.

The food that we pick up or have delivered doesn't magically get prepared or drop onto our doorstep from the sky. Very human people are doing their jobs. Sure, these people need the income; they are not performing these tasks out of love. But, that doesn't make what they do any less important.

It almost goes without saying, but it shouldn't: medical workers, nurses, doctors, custodians, lab techs, and aides in nursing homes have been the difference between life and death for hundreds of thousands of us. Police, firefighters, ambulance drivers, and paramedics are literally on the front line performing their jobs even when doing so puts them and their families in real danger.

The folks who have moved heaven and earth to develop effective vaccines in record time are absolutely heroes. The people who have churned out hundreds of millions of masks, ventilators, and other pandemic-oriented items have saved countless lives. I don't want to forget the tens of thousands of brave individuals who took part in all the testing to develop these vaccines. They were putting their lives on the line when they allowed someone to jab them with something not yet tested on humans. 

in addition to being the provider of comfort and security, moms and dads have taken over the role of teacher, day-care worker, phys ed instructor, and recess monitor. The professional educators are often pulling double duty: some in-class work, and lots of virtual teaching. Once their workday is over they must do all the things stay-at-home parents must do.

Ask virtually anyone who has had their world upended by Covid, and that person is nearly desperate for human contact. We are social animals; we will never again take the simple act of being around other people for granted. 

With this as background, let me suggest that the idea of self-sufficiency needs to be rethought. It is very important that each of us takes charge of as much of our life as possible. We want to stand on our own two feet (metaphorically for many). We deserve the ability to succeed, or fail, on our own terms. We don't want to turn to others for everything.

Even so, that idea must be blended with the absolute fact we are not alone, nor can we function without others. Even if you are one of the dwindling few who live on a farm and can raise your own food, you cannot string your own Internet connection, refine oil into gas for the tractor, or cure your own illnesses. 

You cannot build a television or even a radio without parts. You can't produce the tractor the gasoline goes into. Children? You can't weave fast enough to keep them in clothes or learn cobbling skills to make shoes for their feet.

There are limits to self-sufficiency. As our year-long shattering of normal should make abundantly clear: we need each other in virtually every aspect of our shared time together on this planet. It is irrelevant what job we hold, what skills we possess, or any of the normal social markings that create artificial boundaries between us. 

Our ability to be self-sufficient only reaches to the ends of our extended arms. And, isn't it comforting to know all of us have a role to play and a function to perform to make everything work together?  
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Note: I think I have finally found a way to eliminate all ads from this blog, even the ones Google inserts on its own. They have irritated you (and me) for quite some time. I hope this makes your time spent here more pleasant.

Please let me know if any sneak their way back onto these pages.

Bob



40 comments:

  1. Well-said Bob. I read all your posts through Feedly (an RSS app) so I am not distracted by all the ads that are now interspersed throughout the website version of the post. 😎

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    1. I have removed all ads from Google and Amazon that used to generate a little bit of income. So, I gather Google is adding them on their own and I can't stop them. Very sorry anyone has to do deal with them, but they are completely out of my control.

      Getting an RSS feed is a good workaround.

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    2. Funny I’ve never seen ads on your blog..nor any for that matter I follow.

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    3. Just another reason to consider moving to WordPress Bob. 😎 They have a much more elegant editor and give the user more control of their websites. I am just not a fan of Google as they make almost all their $billions selling your information to others. Sometimes the ads show up sometimes they don't. Probably has something to do with my browser selection, which is Firefox. It strips most ads, but I can't get them off your site.

      Interesting variety of comments here. I particularly like your response to Janette.

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    4. I am curious about people seeing ads on this blog. I don't see any. Maybe I'm just lucky?

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  2. My grandma was born in 1896. She raised six kids during the depression on an isolated farm, much in the way that folks lived in the 1800’s. They did not have an auto, and took their crop to the cotton gin by wagon during the 30’s. The kids helped in the fields before school, and then the schools shut down during harvest so all the kids could help their parents bring in the crop. I guess that was the original fall school break. There was a school bus that picked up the kids. Most did nit have running water nor electricity. By the time the kids were going off to War in the 1940’s, and then in the late 40’s, they started plowing by tractor. My granddaddy actually died when the tractor overturned on him. Folks were a lot more self sufficient then, and I still remember using outhouses at rural homesteads in the 1960’s. We are no longer a rural society, and crops are managed by high tech methods.Catfish farming, where I currently live, depends on electricity to churn the water, tests to make sure it is keep at the proper nutrient level, etc. My point is that yes, you are correct, we depend on far flung markets worldwide to buy our farming products, and they depend on us to buy the tech parts made in far off lands. We are interconnected, now, more than ever. I will say, I do try to buy locally farmed produce, meat, grain, etc., as much as possible, to support local jobs and industry. I will only eat catfish grown locally.

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    1. It does help to support local merchants, use farmers' markets for produce, and learn how animals, like chickens, or pigs, are treated by the companies that process and sell them to us.

      But, the days your grandparents and even your parents experienced are gone. That is a shame. There should be a way for people who want to be on their own can do so, and provide food to us that doesn't come from a huge conglomerate, more interested in shareholder profits than the community in which they are located.

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  3. Thoughtful post! I know ,during Covid, I have learned that as much as I enjoy my quiet time, my spirit relies on the weekly social time with my old friends,playing cards,laughing, discussing politics,religion, and every other topic..solving the world’s problems, lol. And I miss my volunteer activities too. A few of my friends have made sure to keep our connections going: Our book club leader has a ZOOM meeting every month, my art group leader also. (Not the same as in person, but..) My 3 friends on my block: We bring each other little goodies; cookies,books, lemons... notes and flowers here and there..we are trying to take care of one another.My neighbor across the street brought us a dozen Krispy Kreme’s one week! SMALL THINGS! But that said, I still see the BIG PICTURE — where we need to remember we are all one human family: As long as one child goes to bed hungry, we are not doing our duty to one another! It takes a village, like Hillary said.. in my wildest dreams, we are interconnected in ways that provide for health, safety, and well being, all over the planet. But political realities are real and it’s a long haul,isn’t it. The best I can think to do (besides VOTING) is do my part, in my family, my neighborhood, my social groups. What can we do TODAY,right NOW, to foster the interconnections? We are so much better when we reach out and remember that we’re much more the same than we are different!

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    1. I am envious of your neighborhood interaction. It is the encouraging, that it exists in such a way.

      It is hard to develop interconnections with others at the moment. Even the simple step of smiling, chatting with a waiter, using his or her name, and tipping well are not possible for most.

      As an aside, could you send your Krispy Kreme-delivering neighbor to my street?

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  4. I recall hearing people say to me "No one helped me, I did it all myself" conveniently forgetting that someone else built the roads they use, provided them free schooling, built the power stations, made sure that the water was safe to drink, etc. etc. No one does everything by themselves and we do well to remember that.

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    1. Or as Monty Python so said so well in their film - "What have the Romans ever done for us?"
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7tvauOJMHo

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    2. I am sure you have seen interviews with some of the people who believe in tearing down the government. Yet, to get to their rallies (or riots) they fly in a plane whose safe trip is taken care of by the government. Those who drive are in vehicles required to be safe and on roads built by...wait for it....the government.

      The food they eat, the water they drink, even the gas that fuels their transportation doesn't just happen.

      Heavens, even the serious preppers stock their bugout shelters with food and supplies from grocery store shelves. Everything is interconnected and dependent on each other.

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  5. The ads that I saw early this morning when I first read this post were distracting to the point I said to myself, "I'm glad I haven't monetized my blog." But I've often wondered if doing so was worth it. With the topics you write about I'm guessing it would be because a lot of people google retirement topics. My blog---old woman drifting through life---not so much.

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    1. As I noted to RJ above, I removed all the ads under my control over a year ago. This blogging platform is owned by Google. Once I publish a post, they seem to believe they can add whatever they want. The only thing I can say no to is adult content, whatever that means anymore. Aa a point of reference, Google says I earned $.01 yesterday from all the ads they insert. Not really worth it on my part, is it?

      My choices are to move to something like WordPress but that is more work than I am willing to undertake, or stop blogging. If the complaints about the advertising begin to injure my reputation and the Satisfying Retirement brand, that is probably what I will do.

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    2. I may have found a way to remove all ads from this blog. Give Google a day or two to respond, but I am hopeful.

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    3. I was going to say, I have a google run blog, too, and in settings you can turn ads off but it sounds like you've figured that out. I used to be on a site that paid a penny a click and that was actually worth it but they went they went out of business so I guess it wasn't so good for them. LOL

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  6. The storms last week that crippled Texas and a lot of the country show how dependent we are on electricity and water among other things. We take these things for granted until they are no longer available. To be truly self sufficient, I picture those few who go "off the grid". I think I will take a rare power outage over trying to get off the grid! I have been thankful lately for numerous things that I have really never thought about. As I was getting my first dose of vaccine at a facility that did 10,000 in one day, I was amazed and thankful for the people that put the whole thing together and thankful for the scientist behind the vaccine. As I was watching TV last night, a firetruck and ambulance were at a neighbor's house to assist in a medical situation. I stood looking out the window and was thankful we have these professionals to respond to help us when in need.

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    1. Sometimes it takes an event like the failures in Texas or a pandemic to open our eyes to how much we need each other.

      Your fire truck and ambulance example is one a lot of us can relate to. I have seen similar emergency responses in my neighborhood over the years and am thankful each time I see the professionals at work.

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    2. Sound like my neck of the woods..the neighbors have no water but I can go to Texas Speedway and get my shot like a well oiled machine, lol.

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  7. Wow- we totally have a different view of the world or at least US ingenuity and why people come to this country.Have you ever thought that your attitude is much more Beltway US then Western spirit?
    I agree, the elite should thank the masses as they collect their money made on the market. Then they should let everyone who wants to have a self sufficient country go for it. I am sure they can figure out how to make money off of them eventually.
    The US has the can do spirit to push for a vaccine. They have the can do spirit to build the systems that keep fuel moving so people can stay warm (except when those sources are shut down....). They have the can do spirit to make and buy local instead of using slave labor of other countries to make their products. It is the can do spirit that got the education system to educate all...well, right now they only educate the people who are rich or smart enough to live in an open district.
    That is why I am a libertarian. Just stay out of the way and most of us will take care of you :)Of course. making us dependent is SO much easier.....

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    1. Do you shop at any stores? Do you receive Social Security or Medicare? Did any children go to public school? Do you use electricity, a sewer and municipal water system? Do you pay income tax? Do you use the Internet? Do you drive on any roads you personally didn't build?

      The point of the post is we are all dependent on others to some degree. To think we are nothing more than a bunch of "can do" people completely disconnected from the world is a fantasy. Or, if you prefer, it is an alternate fact.

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    2. Janette, I'd be interested in how you define Libertarian? Are you right or left or what? You don't describe a self-sufficiency of moving fuel. Education is available to all-not sure why you say elite? Or are you speaking of expensive private universities?

      You describe nothing that is self-sufficiency. I for one, would like to hear more.

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  8. Medical care in old age is one of the best examples of dependence on others. Without government intervention there would be very little medical care for seniors. Only the very wealthiest of individuals would have healthcare over 65, without massive help from others. Medicare is heavily subsidized by others. Without this government program no company would sell a health insurance policy to any senior. If such a policy did exist the annual cost would be well in excess of $20K a year per individual. The only way healthcare for seniors works is having the young that don't need it pay in also. Can you imagine car insurance prices if it was only sold to people that had wrecks on a regular basis. For the true believers in their own independence I would suggest we refund them every dime they or their employers ever put into Medicare. Turn them loose on the free market healthcare system. How many years would it take for most to be destitute?. We have always been stronger together. Separately we will all be picked off one at a time.

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    1. I suggest it is impossible to live completely indpendently. The old days? Trappers had to sell their pelts to someone. A farmer sold his excess production to others.

      Probably the closest thing to an independent livestyle I can think of would be a tribe of native americans on the great plains in the 1800s.

      We kid ourselves when we stress our go it alone attitude. Life doesn't work that way.

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    2. "We have always been stronger together". I love that line, Fred, and I believe you've hit the nail on the head.

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  9. I had hopes that the pandemic would initiate a "reset" on our society and spark the regrowth of community and shared sacrifice against a common enemy. While there has been some of that, I have been saddened to see the rise of even more hyper-partisan "individualism." I think we have lost too many social institutions that once fostered community (a number of fraternal and service organizations have shut down in my area over the last few years). Friendships use to form and transcend political differences when working on a common goal for the community.

    I see an increasing number of folks who voice their pride in "thinking for themselves." I think many are in reality, thinking of themselves. "Mine and me" have eclipsed "we." The enemy for many is not the pandemic, but my neighbor.

    Rick in Oregon

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    1. "Thinking for themselves" often means "Thinking of themselves" is one of best ways to express this situation that I have ever read.

      One reason I keep blogging is because I really believe this is a place where a community develops...among people who care enough about others to share comments and offer feedback. We are united at one place on the Internet and can share even a small part of our lives together.

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  10. Bob, your references to "invisible" people around us and "artificial boundaries" brought to mind conversations I had with our daughter, Kyra, when she was in middle school and high school. Because I worked in our school district, our kids became familiar with most of the staff. It always bothered our daughter that her classmates ignored or looked down on the cafeteria and maintenance staff. It prompted numerous conversations at home about the importance of every job out there and equality among individuals. Kyra developed great relationships with many of the "invisible" staff members, many of whom brightened a tough day and shared the joy of her successes. Sadly, most of her classmates missed out on what could have been wonderful and supportive relationships because they could not or would not see the invisible through their bias.

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    1. This is a very sad commentary on our current times in America and perhaps the way some parents raise ( or not raise) their children. Young children mimic the actions and attitudes of parents. It’s much different than when I was growing up. We’ve become a cruder, ruder, less empathetic society to our peril.

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    2. I agree with your observation about "invisible people." I just finished a book, "Thanks a Thousand, A Gratitude Journey," by A. J. Jacobs, who decided to personally thank everyone involved in producing his morning coffee-- from the barista at the coffee shop to the farmers growing the coffee in South America.. and the hundreds of people in between. An inspiring and fun read about the many "invisible people" who mostly labor in obscurity. I recommend it.

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    3. Coincidently, I came across "Thanks a Thousand" a couple of years ago and thought it was a great read, as well. It made such an impression on me that I actually devoted an entire blog post to it around the holidays back in 2018. We take so much for granted.

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    4. OK...another book for my must-read pile.

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  11. Anyone who has lived long enough to "go through some things" knows we all need one another. It's fine to say we should all do for ourselves, but there are things are best done in the public good - highways, schools, utilities, etc. And dare I say healthcare? No man [sic] is an island. In my experience most people come to that conclusion as they age. And more come to it once they have more experiences that make them appreciate community and support.

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    1. Not being overly dependent on others vs. understand we need each other in so many ways is the lesson that life should teach us. We begin and often end life being completely dependent on the care and concern of others. But, all that time in between is meant to learn to value of give and take, to be involved in the care of everyone, in a million different ways.

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  12. Not much I can say to what's been added except to say that I think communities, even those cut off from others have the ability to be while not self sufficient more self sufficient as a group. I do think it behooves us all to learn as much and as many skills as we can, both for ourselves and to care for others. And for the times we have to be self sufficient in the short run ( the roads are out, it's too foggy for a chopper, and the doctor's not coming soon kind of thing). Been there and done that.

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    1. This discussion is bringing back interesting memories. One day when she was in high school, Kyra had a friend over and they decided to reheat leftovers from the previous night's pasta dinner for lunch. Our home doesn't have a microwave. As they were standing in the kitchen next to the stove with four burners and an oven, the friend, in surprise, asked, "How are you going to heat it up"?! I don't know who was more stunned - the friend who couldn't conceive of a home without a microwave or me that a person of that age had no concept of what to do in that situation. I think Barb makes an excellent point about expanding our arsenal of skills to benefit both ourselves and others. Incidentally, Alan taught Kyra (now 21) to use a radial arm saw last week. She wanted to learn how to build a storage cabinet with shelves for the barber shop in which she works. The project is now in progress in his shop and she's using him as a sounding board as she goes along. Warms my heart, for sure. Who knows when and for what those skills might benefit her or her family or friends (or simply bring her pleasure) later in life?

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    2. One of the most common expressions today involves the all-pervasive, mysterious, "they". As in "they" will fix it, it's "their" fault, "They did it."

      Using an unknown force is a way to shift responsibility. Barb (and Mary) are so correct: we have become too reliant on others for everything. I'm not talking about misplaced self-sufficiency, rather turning over all control to another, and then blaming the universe for a problem.

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  13. Hi Bob, Part of me thinks that maybe both frames of mind can exist at the same time. A paragraph in the book that I wrote about all the jobs I had came to mind after reading your post:

    "It took a lot of different things from a lot of different places for me to reach my goal. I had two grants from the college, the GI Bill, lived in subsidized housing, had three part-time jobs, was still in the Air Force reserves, cashed in my silver quarters (worth 17 times face value) and my parents helping out with $100 a month. I could not have reached my goal without all this. It was very hard. I was very lucky. "

    This was 40 years ago, married with a baby, working to complete a two-year degree in computer science. I was dependent (and appreciative) on others and had a can-do attitude to succeed at the same time. I could not have reached the goal without both.

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    1. I agree completely. It is a blend of taking self-responsibility and accepting or giving to or from others. The "we can do it all ourselves" is wrong, but so is they will take care of me, or it, or....fill in the blank.

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