Posted On: Thursday, 15 August 2019 by Rajiv Popat

Today, literally the largest democracy of the world celebrates its 73rd independence day and since I am an Indian it seems like an appropriate time to reflect on a fundamental question - What does it mean to be independent?

I'm not talking about independence at a country level but rather, independence at a personal level.

If you've spent any time on YouTube watching the left-leaning Feminist groups and social justice warriors you've probably seen them yelling and screaming about women independence at the top of their voices.

If you've spent any time in the corporate world you've probably seen right-leaning businessmen in suites go on and on about how they are a 'self-made man' and how they are independent.

A jobless student wants her first job because she wants to become independent. The experienced job goer wants to do a startup because he is sick and tired of serving others and wants financial independence.

Independence is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days and the more I hear the word the more I am unsure if the person using the word even understands what the word means.

The bastardized meaning of the word, largely propagated by western media, often conjures up the image of a powerful working woman who is not dependent on anyone to pay her shopping bills. Or a super-rich dude in a suit who can fire anyone he wants in his own kick-ass company. In reality, both of these images are equally stupid images which have nothing to do with independence.

Today, I wanted to throw out some general thoughts about Independence which no-one seems to be speaking about and hopefully start a discussion on the topic of not just what it means to be independent as a country, but moreover what it means to be independent as an individual. In short, I would love to discuss some of the honest but bitter truths about independence that no-one else seems to be talking about.

Here are a few:

#1: Independence doesn't mean you are not dependent on anyone for anything!

The idea that 'independence' means you are not dependent on anyone for anything is by far the stupidest literal translation of the word that most people fall for.

My being independent doesn't mean I'm not dependent on my family and loved ones for moral support, or my employer for my salary or my clients to pay me or my employer for my services.

The whole idea that any form of life is independent is so ludicrous that I'm still surprised people fall for that trap in today's day and age. Of course, the idea sounds romantic and alluring - the hero of a story who can stand all by himself and doesn't need anyone for help!

The idea of complete independence sounds romantic and alluring because anything impossible and nonpractical usually sounds romantic and alluring. But in reality, no life form or collective group of life forms is truly independent. Even Independent countries depend on their allies all the time!

Being independent doesn't mean you are not dependent on anything or anyone. It just means:

  1. You are not forcefully dependent on anyone - You freely choose who you depend on and how much you depend on them. And in turn, they choose if want to provide you the services for which you depend on them. By the same logic, they also get to choose if and how much they depend on you. And in turn, you get to choose if you want to provide the service they are depending on you for. It's a web of intricately and deliberately picked choices which aren't forced, but that doesn't mean these choices don't come with repercussions and price tags. A lot of us again are in romantic love with this idea of more free choice, when the reality of life is, that there are no free choices and most of us can't even handle choices we have. Independence is just the ability to choose who you want to depend on mutually.
  2. You are interdependent - You rely on your family for moral support. They rely on you to be there when they need you. Independence is about interdependence that it is not forced. Notice I didn't say 'interdependence that is free' - because all interdependence comes at a price, which, in a free world, both sides should be happy to pay. In my personal opinion, it is people who are the most scared of creating this interdependence (or taking up the responsibility of paying the price for this interdependence) usually hide behind the pretense that they are 'independent' and are often the neediest, clingiest and whiniest people you will ever meet in your life.

#2: Independence Is Never about an Individual Achievement

The idea that someone can achieve independence individually is nothing more than a media hype which falls back on the ideology that every story must have a hero and hence if you are independent you are the hero who achieved it single-handedly. We do that to our freedom fighters as well.

Any independence story that you dissect will have more unspoken heroes than the names you see in the star caste, screen roll or in front of the cameras.

Your parents had to babysit you and clean your diapers for years before you even stopped shitting your pants. And even now with your so-called independence every time you feel like crap your Mom or Dad is the first number you dial for support. It's easy to talk about your independence in hindsight and forget all the unspoken heroes who contributed to it and are contributing to it even now. It's really hard to look back, pause and give them the due credit they deserve. I suggest you start doing that.

The act of achieving independence is seldom an individual act. Dozens of people have to give up their freedom and sacrifice their independence for one individual to become independent. This number runs in millions when we talk about countries.

So the next time you use words like 'I'm an independent woman!' or 'I'm a self-made man!' spend a little bit of time to reflect - Are you? Really?

Contrary to what you would love to believe, your independence has very little to do to with your achievements and accomplishments. Your independence has to do much more about the people standing behind you than it has to do about you at all.

#3: Independence is Hard to Achieve, Harder to Retain (And Even Harder To Handle):

At an individual level when most people say they are independent they have no clue of what they are talking about. Show me one man who says he is independent and I'll show you a man who had most likely never seen a movie in a movie theatre alone and has never gone on a truly solo trip or vacation. Show me a man who says he is independent and I'll most likely show you a man who can't even enjoy his own company.

Independence doesn't mean you withdraw from others. But Independence is about ending the habit of being needy, clingy, whiny and being emotionally dependent on others for petty things like attention and approval. It is about mature, meaningful coming together of powerful individuals because they like each others company. The same is true when powerful countries decide to become allies.

When you look at it from that perspective, Independence is hard to achieve and you have to keep working at it. Most of us mere mortals aren't independent. Most of us can't even wash our clothes without whining when the washing machine breaks down or cook our food day after day without relying on a restaurant when we are fully aware that the junk we buying at that stupid fast food joint isn't good for us. And then we sit in our cafeterias and talk about how we as individuals are independent and self-made.

Most of us aren't even capable of forming an independent thought. So the next time you talk about independence here is an exercise you can try out: Come up with one independent thought. Not something that builds on something you read in a newspaper or something you heard a self-help guru scream about on YouTube. One independent thought that was formed in your head. Be Honest about this exercise and you'll see how hard independence is. Now keep working on that thought and you'll see how you slowly start getting better at developing independent opinions.

#4: No, You're Not There Yet:

No, you still aren't independent. But the beauty of living in a free country is that you have the freedom to practice the idea of independence as a lifestyle. Not the usual independence where you strive to not depend on anyone but the more mature idea of independence where you willingly and happily pay the price of mutual interdependence and develop gratitude for people you depend on. The question is, can you even handle that kind of independence? Or is even your idea of independence, dependent on the stupid cliché media narratives of what it means to be independent? Honestly, the whole idea of independence has very little to do about being independent in the conventional sense. Just a little something to think about.

And now that you have something to think about for today, If you're an Indian and are reading this today, Happy Independence Day.

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