Recently I took my three oldest grandsons to a children's museum.
The 8-year-old twins are self-contained, but the same cannot be said of their 4-year-old brother. Generally he is a computer, iPhone, master game player, but when it came to identifying concealed objects in a drawing projected on a monitor, his skills failed him.
As I would attempt to point to a possible clue on the screen he would rapidly and firmly push my hand aside. He then would randomly sweep over the whole area without success.
But even without finding a single hidden upside down bell, or a crayon that was part of a wooden frame, he still insisted without having to say a word that "me do it."
So here is the triangulated scenario: independent, unsuccessful grandson; frustrated grandfather (hey, I'm learning just like everyone else); and a mindless electronic game that wasn't perturbed at all.
Gavin wanted to do it himself. I wanted him to find the pieces, and get it right. He didn't want help, and it was very hard not to give it.
How many of us are like Gavin, we can't or won't accept help?
Getting it right is less important than going it alone. Much is spoken to the power of self-reliance. I am in total support of the concept but with an asterisk.
Sometimes what is thought to be self-reliance is instead a social isolation or an inability to learn or share with others.
It's pride. Pride is a condition of comparison or competition. It is everyone for themselves. Or it is everyone against everyone else.
Me, myself, and I are safe, and all is well in my self-defined and self-limited Zion. But it is not. It is a subsurface insecurity that is plastered over with superiority that only has the air and error of self-reliance.
It is faux self-reliance. Optimal self-reliance is to be unburdened with self to be free to assist another.
This has nothing to do with dried wheat. There is a different facade of self-reliance from insecurity. The burden of self-doubt imposes shame sufficient to hang up on the call from help. The self-delusion is they don't need it. They wouldn't accept assistance if it were presented to them on a silver platter.
In their internal story, parting from scripture, all the potential Good Samaritans do walk on, appearing too busy or disinterested. Sadly, even worse they, the wounded on the side of the road, feel undeserving of any dressings and balms. The reasoning goes: I am alone. It has been so from childhood. Since infancy the maternal calm was not there. I cannot permit anyone to know I don't know. So my inaccessibility and apparent lack of interest in support is not a sign of independence but of self-paralysis or, worse, a self-loathing.
These individuals are self-imprisoned not self-reliant.
There is another group surrounded by a mirage of self–reliance. They don't ask for anything. This second group is less severely smitten. These are shy, but perhaps not perceptively so. They are not proud in the usual arrogant sense of refusal. They are white or yellow belts in pride, not a black belter.
They appear in every way competent. They are not lazy, but they don't know how or where to start.
And asking is tough.
They need a friend. This buddy becomes the playmate who gets the truant pupil to the classroom. The student is ready to learn but needs classmates in the adjoining rows.
This group is proto-self-reliant. They just need someone who can nudge them. They know they don't know and are eager and waiting to have a teacher show up with homework assignments.
So we are back at the museum.
I don't think Gavin is contemplating for a second his position on self-reliance. He just knows he wants to do his thing himself.
As his grandfather I am going to let him do it.
Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, practicing pediatrician for more than 25 years and an adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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