July 12, 2010

Non-Independence Day

I didn’t write an Independence Day post last week partly because I’ve been on the road. Burkina Faso is a fun enough place to visit, but there were no fireworks displays at night to celebrate America’s intent to withdraw from King George’s Britain.

But the other reason is that I think of a celebration of independence much like the Thanksgiving holiday. The holiday later in the year is all about eating pie and being grateful. I like both of those things; I just think that being grateful (or eating pie!) shouldn’t be reserved for one special day.

So while it’s nice to reflect on a country’s independence from foreign powers while waiting for the pizza guy to arrive, just as our forefathers did, I think it’s better to think about independence on a more personal and regular basis. What is independence, really?

To understand independence, let’s look at the opposite principle of lacking freedom or otherwise being restrained—non-independence, let’s call it. What is non-independence? I can think of two parts.

Part I: People who lack freedom due to no fault of their own

After starting in Burkina Faso, I’m now writing this post from Niger. Burkina and Niger are both beautiful countries, well worth coming to if your world tour takes you this way. They are also countries where a very large percentage of the population is desperately poor. In Niger especially, about 50% of the people are struggling due to a recent famine. It’s hard to sit around thinking big thoughts when you’re wondering if you’ll have enough to eat next week. If you can’t feed your children, you’re not very independent.

From the other side of the glass, the best thing us rich people can do is work to create a world without absolute poverty, not through patronizing, but through empowerment. Personally, I’m a big fan of clean water. Even though I’m in Niger, I can afford myself the extravagance of drinking water that won’t make me sick.

That’s a nice freedom to have, and that’s why we should all do what we can to help everyone achieve the luxury of choice.

Part II: Our own, self-created non-independence

The other kind of non-independence is what most of us in the non-poor world are more familiar with. This is the self-created kind, where we end up giving away our independence in exchange for perceived security. We get sucked into routines and patterns that aren’t at all what we hoped for, but to turn around and make a big change is too difficult.

Inertia and comfort are the greatest hindrances to independence. Some people manage to do it, like Jodi who saved for years to leave her job as a corporate lawyer and travel through Burma, or Audrey and Daniel who have made a career out of international development consulting from the road. And sometimes a camel really does go through the eye of the needle.

I love the exceptions. But most of the time, we limit ourselves in the name of obligations and responsibilities.

Action Plan! (It’s not just something you read)

So I recommend we do two things on this non-independence day, or whatever day it happens to be when you come across this.

First up, do one thing for someone else.

It’s easy to pretend that big, global problems don’t exist; I do it most of the time too. I ignore a lot of people, from beggars on the street in West Africa to people brandishing countless petitions on the street in Portland. I ignore them because I know I can’t help them all, and therefore I make the false choice to help no one.

But why not decide to reach out to the next one who comes along? I’m staying in a hotel and drinking all the clean water I want. The least I can do is buy rice for someone.

Back at home, I don’t really enjoy being accosted by petitioners for every imaginable cause in my neighborhood. But I know that plenty of other people will be rude to them, so I might as well be someone’s happy customer. Where do I sign?

Perhaps you’re not in Niger at the moment, or maybe you don’t have relentless petitioners out for blood and signatures in your neighborhood. But what do you have? What can you do?

If you’re not sure or just need the turn-key plan, join forces with our Ethiopia campaign. 100% of the money goes toward providing wells with local organizations in two communities. We haven’t promoted it much since launching it earlier in the year, but rest assured I’ll be going all-out this fall as I tour North America. It’s a project worth investing in.

Secondly, do one thing for yourself.

It’s not all about everyone else; your independence is worth fighting for too. Don’t give it away!

What can you do to take one step toward greater independence? Career independence means that your own competence is your security, whether you work for someone else or not. Financial independence means you understand the values that guide your income and expenses. Relational, spiritual, intentional, and so on—take your pick of independence-building. Just do something.

Fireworks, pie, celebrations—I could take them or leave them (well, except for the pie). But independence itself is the best prize. Let freedom ring!

Whatever independence means over there in your world, it’s probably up to you to make it happen. Happy non-independence day, everyone.

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Fireworks Image: SandCastleMatt
Pizza Guy Forefathers Reference: Brett Kelly

Comment on this article

34 Responses to “Non-Independence Day”

  1. Beautiful post, Chris! I completely agree that holidays should be everyday — especially Thanksgiving, Christmas, Mother’s Day, etc. Why not be grateful everyday? Celebrate family every day? And so on…

    I truly believe that the more we raise our levels of awareness in general, the more we will be able to recognize the extraordinary in the ordinary, too.

    Everyday is cause for celebration.

    Safe travels! Can’t wait to meet you in New York.

  2. Great post. Back to part # 1. It’s pretty amazing out of the places in the world I could have been born, I was lucky enough to be born in the U.S. I don’t think I will ever realize how lucky I actually am.

    Now to part # 2. I did this for a little and it was no form of independence. I wasn’t doing what I wanted five days a week. That was too much freedom to give up for perceived security.

  3. We should celebrate our independence every day by making the choice not allow ourselves to be controlled by our negative emotions. Life is too short to live it rolling in self-pity.

    We should recognize how much we have — how much potential we posess — and then use that potential to grow ourselves and help others improve their lives.

    Thank you for the excellent reminder, Chris! Safe travels!

  4. Awesome topic Chris! I smiled when I saw the email come in. I wrote a post on July 4 called In(ter)dependence Day – the idea being that although we celebrate our nation’s independence, the reality is that we live in an interdependent world. We rely on each other, our friends, families, environment, etc. for survival. This is not weakness, it’s reality, and the more we realize it, the happier we can be.

    I loved that you tied in how we can help each other out, even if we don’t have a personal relationship with everyone we come in contact with. Stopping to chat with the petitioner might be just what they need to keep their energy up to see the cause through to the end. Sometimes a simple smile and ‘hello’ can make a big difference in someone’s day. Jonathan Fields had a great post on this a couple of weeks back about a kid selling chocolate bars and how his simple act of stopping and buying a bar from the kid had such a huge impact on the kid and his grandfather. Awesome!

    Thx C!

  5. Re: the action plan, I think it is always a good idea to do something for someone else when you’re feeling stuck about anything. It takes you out of your own drama and allows you to see the bigger picture, which almost always helps you get unstuck. And then you can take a step for yourself.

    We’re leaving in 80 days – count ‘em! – for our trip around the world. It will be a very big step that has followed 10,000 small steps over the past two years around personal independence and doing what is right for us and the people around us. A tough but worthy journey before the physical journey even begins…

  6. Love your perspective, and the fact that every Monday, I get to sponge off your ideas and mobilize myself to contribute, as well as possess a more global vision.

    Thanks for supporting clean water, now I’ll do the same…

    Linda

  7. I made mention of the global problems on Twitter, so I want to use the space here to mention people that *think* they aren’t independent when they really are, or at least came take tangible steps to becoming independent. Hate your job? Quit or find a new one. Hate your spouse? Get counseling. Hate your neighborhood or house? Move.

    The point here is that we (in rich countries) hold the power. Celebrate Independence Day by manifesting your own destiny.

    -Elaine

  8. Little changes mean a lot. I live in Las Vegas where many workers rely on tips. About a year ago I desided to double the size of my tips. I’m sure they appreciate that small gesture. It makes me feel good too.

  9. I really agree with Part II of your post. I think we are our own worst enemy when it comes to overcoming our own “non-independence,” which I call Modern Serfdom.

    Our default inclination is to acquire responsibilities in our life and prefer “security” in our jobs. I think that our responsibilities are actually excuses for not making our own decisions and that job security is preferable to many only because we have too many responsibilities to not need a regular paycheck. But posts like these remind us what we’re doing (or not doing), which is great!

    Thanks for the post, I enjoyed reading it!

  10. Another really great post, Chris! Keep up the good work and be safe ~

    Best Wishes,
    Juliet

  11. Chris, I really appreciate your posts that invite compassionate action. I believe that true freedom can only be achieved when we recognize our interconnectedness with all beings (human and otherwise) and with the environment as well. Then compassionate action comes naturally. The Dalai Lama calls it being “wisely selfish.”

  12. This line – “I ignore them because I know I can’t help them all, and therefore I make the false choice to help no one.” – is brilliant.

    How many times have I heard, “But we can’t help everyone….”

    False choice is right. Great post, thanks!

  13. Hi Chris,

    Last summer in Seattle I was in such a good mood because the sun came out…at lunchtime I found myself in front of a petitioner, signing up to sponsor a girl in Columbia. Now she’s “rich” because of the $22/month I send.

    We’re lucky to be born in a place where we get to choose almost everything, *and* it gives us responsibility. I think about that girl when I wonder how my business will turn out, and it motivates me.

    Inspired by you and others, I recently began a water project myself. Having grown up and lived along both coasts I’ve always felt connected with the sea and it’s creatures. After the Gulf oil spill I decided to take action doing what I love and donate a percent of my profits to Mission Blue. I’ve never felt so on purpose and energized.

    Thanks again for your inspiration Chris.

  14. I couldn’t agree more. To me independence is the ultimate for salvation, that and Freedom. I spent year and years being dependent on my job, my parents, my routines, my possessions, etc., only to realize that I became happier when I started ditching my dependence on those things and realizing that, although they provide a certain fuzzy feeling of comfort, you’re never truly independent. To some that’s OK – but many others it’s not – especially not me.

  15. I would add one more thing: meet and hang out with other independent people. After meeting Jodi, Dan, and Audrey, I can say that they are incredibly personal people and hugely inspiring as well. The more you hang out with other non-conformists, the more you realize how easy it really can be; it’s simply a matter of choices.

  16. Thanks for this post. Perfect timing for me. I’m really struggling with my independence (part II) so it’s always great to read your supporting words and the comments from those who feel the same.

    I was recently thinking about how fortunate I am for the luxuries I have as an American. I agree that we should be thankful more than a few days out of the year for that good fortune.

    Thank you for reminding me to do my part, for the world and myself.

  17. Thanks for the mention in this post! I completely agree with the action plan and starting with doing something for other. After a recent visit to the States, I found that many people want to do this, but don’t know where to get started. I think some people believe that they need to do something dramatic or large-scale and this keeps them from doing anything. But, many small actions add up to something great.

    The exact same concept applies to doing something for yourself. Don’t try and do it all overnight, but as Betsy said, all those small changes will create a big shift in how you view your situation and your own independence won’t seem so out of reach after all.

    Safe travels and have fun in Kazakhstan. There is a chain of pizza/sushi restaurants with good wifi all over Almaty (probably Astana, too).

  18. Your posts are so freaking inspirational. Thank you!!!

  19. Well said. I’ve been working really hard and working smart to become career and financially independent. With the help of two great organizations, EARN and Women’s Initiative (located in San Francisco), I’ve leveraged my resources toward a more fulfilling life. You’re right! Independence should be celebrated and sought after every day of the year. Thank you Chris for your inspiring words. They reach more people than you know. Safe travels.

  20. It is all just process, isn’t it. I just decided a couple of months back to start paying more attention to all the homeless (at least in Los Angeles) and preparing myself with a buck or two in advance, like when I head from the parking lot to the market. I try not to react (walk fast and ignoring). Then I decide will it help, am I cheap, selfish, compassionate? If they ask me I interact — some I wish I hadn’t — eye contact, talking, smile, be nice. Missing teeth gets me every time.

    So far, I am just learning more about me than them.

  21. Chris you always write what’s in my mind. I wrote on this last week but you always seem to put a new angle on things.

    p.s. love your attitude on gratefulness.

  22. “we end up giving away our independence in exchange for perceived security.”

    This statement is so true. We have been tricked into believing that security comes from a job and 401k. Unfortunately, that day has long passed. I work with a gentleman that is 68 years old and can’t retire because of all the money he’s lost in the stock market over the past few years. It’s a sad, but far to common story.

  23. I completely agree with the whole water problem in the world. I’m in Tanzania reading your blog from a small village while we work on installing a rainwater harvesting system at the local primary school. When we first arrived in Tz a month ago, I looked around and said, “Dammit, I should’ve just went home and did something normal and boring” – because I was so overwhelmed with everything. But halfway through the trip (5 weeks left), the village people are excited and grateful for our time here. We have gotten so much assistance, and some people have gone out of their way to help us. That’s what I’m thankful for.

  24. I’m a recent college grad, and I face so much pressure from my family to “settle down and get a real job”. Having grown up in the mid-west my whole life, I have decided I will spend the next year traveling and expanding my world view. Thanks for the inspirational words!

  25. Thanks for a great post! “help everyone achieve the luxury of choice” really resonates with me and my family. We really want all of the freedom and wealth that we hope to build to go beyond ourselves. We can’t wait to see where that takes us!

  26. Thanks Chris! I think one of the greatest things a person can achieve in his/her life is its independence. And independence in many senses of the word (like mentioned before).
    I agree that we shouldn’t give up our independence to “achieve” security. In my opinion, you’re not getting a “real” security feeling, because you are dependent on someone or something. Once it’s gone, what happens to you?

    Thanks for sharing this post!

  27. The majority of people who work a classic 9-5 job definitely have much less independence than they believe they do.

    Thanks for reminding us to be willing to give back to others. Those of us born in the U.S. are certainly very blessed and will never truly know how lucky we have it.

  28. I love this post!
    If only we realized the power we all have… The mind is a powerful tool. It is easier to sit back and place blame elsewhere, than it is to chart a path and follow it. Maybe the hardest part is deciding where to go. After that though, the only way to go is up.

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  30. excellent post, Chris! just what i needed to read this early morning before engaging with my daily ‘perceived security’ activity LOL

    like you, myself, seth godin, steve pavlina et al have written several times, it’s all in the training of our minds. we’ve got to train ourselves to think differently in order to act differently. therein lies both the challenge & reward.

    so my action items for today: part one, fix the stapler once and for all for my coworkers…

    enjoy your travels!

  31. I am consistently amazed how the first part of the process, acting selflessly, feeds back into the second, acting selfishly. Whether because of inspiration, confidence, purpose, or just joie de vivre the cliche is true: helping others helps ourselves.

    But the reverse is true as well, when we start acting with the selfishness centered on true freedom, we have the emotional space, insight and freedom to help others in new, compelling and authentic ways.

    Thanks as always for helping my thinking along!

  32. Thanks for the mention, Chris! As Kyle said above, it is always helpful to spend time with other similar-minded people, especially when you are returning home from a considerable time abroad. A support group of who get the independent lifestyle (and have made that kind of freedom a priority) goes a long way to helping buoy the choices you’ve made. Safe travels! – Jodi

  33. It’s beautiful to think of being more free by giving more to others. That’s the paradox of love: we get a feeling of expansiveness and freedom, while being more connected to others and more engaged with them.

  34. “So while it’s nice to reflect on a country’s independence from foreign powers while waiting for the pizza guy to arrive, just as our forefathers did, I think it’s better to think about independence on a more personal and regular basis.”

    I believe it is always healthy to both recognize and celebrate your own personal independence on a daily basis, but it would be self-absorbed to not single out one day to celebrate the self-sacrifice of our countrymen before us who paved they way for us with their blood. The two ought not be confused.

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