Thursday, January 1, 2015

What is Self-Reliance?

The concept of self-reliance is important, but poorly understood. Some people confuse self-reliance with self-sufficiency. Others assume that self-reliance equals selfishness. Neither is true. The purpose of this article is to correct those misunderstandings.

Let's start with dictionary definitions of self-reliance:

Self-reliance - Reliance on one's own capabilities, judgment, or resources; independence (from The Free Dictionary)

Self-reliance - Reliance on oneself or one's own powers, resources, etc. (from

What I want you to notice about those definitions is what is missing from both of them. The word "only" or "exclusively" is missing from both. So both dictionaries define it as reliance on oneself, but not in an exclusive sense. For exclusivity, we need to look to the definition of self-sufficient.

Self-sufficient - Able to supply one's own or its own needs without external assistance (from

It is self-sufficiency that requires no external assistance, a task that is probably impossible for any individual.

John D. McCann, in his new book Practical Self-Reliance, does a better job of explaining the difference:

"In my opinion, self-reliance is being able to do as much as we can without outside assistance.... On the other hand, self-sufficiency is the ability to maintain oneself without outside aid, being able to provide for all of one's needs. Unfortunately, in today's world, we must live with a dependence or inter-dependence on others. In the pioneer days people could not produce everything they needed and had to rely on others for supplies they could not furnish. Even mountain men went to rendezvous in order to sell their furs and purchase needed supplies. They were both very self-reliant, but not self-sufficient." (from page 14, emphasis added)

So the idea of self-reliance does not require the absence of any external existence, but rather to rely first and foremost on oneself, turning to others only when necessity dictates.

Is Self-Reliance Selfish?

I've answered the charge in my Introduction to the Modern Victory Movement, but it bears saying again:  Self-reliance is not anti-social or selfish. It does not mean shutting yourself off from your friends or community. It certainly doesn't mean heading for the hills and hiding, heavily armed, in a secret compound until after some dread doomsday comes to pass.

If you have ever listened to a flight attendant give emergency instructions, you may have noticed that they tell parents traveling with a child to put the oxygen mask on themselves first, before putting one on their child. The airlines don't say that because they hate children. Instead, they say that because if a parent is to help their child, they must first be able to do so. A parent unconscious from the lack of oxygen will be of absolutely no help to their child.

Likewise, we will be of little help to our family, friends and neighbors, if we are the ones in need of help ourselves. In fact, our own helplessness may make matters much worse for our community. Far from being selfish, building self-reliance may be one of the most generous things you can do.

What exactly is Self-Reliance? 

There are lots of facets to the concept of self-reliance. A lot has been written on the subject, from Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay Self-Reliance, to John D. McCann's aforementioned book Practical Self-Reliance.  I'll include here a short summary of my thoughts on what it means to be self-reliant.

1- Assume responsibility for your own life.  Don't wait around for the government, your parents, union leaders, community organizers, or anyone else to take care of you. Don't sit around whining that life is unfair, or that someone else has it so much better than you. Learn to take care of yourself. You are in charge of your life, so act like it.

2- Take the blame for your own life.  Don't scapegoat others. Don't "pass the buck." If you are blaming someone else, you are not being self-reliant. Even when things happen beyond your control - such as being robbed, being laid-off, or even your house burning down - you are still in control of how you react to those things.

3- Be informed.  It is your responsibility to find out the facts and information you need to make informed decisions. Keep up with current events. Keep up with the trends in your industry. Know where to get information. Ask questions. Be a lifelong learner. Remember the acronym ASK - Always Seek Knowledge.

4- Know where your going.  What are your goals? What is your purpose? What do you hope to accomplish? Don't just drift through life. Think. Plan ahead.

5- Make your own decisions.  Don't let others run your life for you - and that especially includes the government. Don't worry about what others think of you. Don't worry about being politically correct or socially acceptable. Don't give in to peer pressure. Don't just "go along to get along." Be informed of the issues, and decide for yourself. Be independent.

6- Learn skills.  The more skills you have, the more self-reliant you can be. And by skills, I don't just mean various homesteading, bushcraft, and country skills so popular with most "preppers," but other skills as well, including mechanical skills, computer skills, negotiating skills, business skills, financial skills, budgeting skills, leadership skills, networking skills...

7- Gain experience.  Knowledge learned from books, classrooms, and videos, is often theoretical. Your theoretical knowledge may turn out to be wrong, incomplete, or impractical. Skills can be learned under perfect conditions. But real life tends to be messy, not perfect. Your skills may be challenged by difficult conditions or a lack of resources. Nothing beats actual real world experience.

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