Not too long ago, at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, I was forced to relieve domestic help at home for sometime. They had been responsible for doing the housework — getting groceries, preparing meals, cleaning house, and doing laundry. However, due to the physical distancing we were all practicing to slow the spread of the virus, I was now in charge of those tasks.
After many years of not having to handle these duties myself, I found the first week of lockdown a bit challenging. While I did have some help from neighbors — who were kind enough to prepare extra food for me in their meals — I was doing most of these things alone.
Apart from doing the house chores, I needed to take care of myself to be at my best — as we all do — by way of getting adequate rest, sleep, and some daily discretionary time for renewal. This also helped me make the most of my few hours of work time.
I remember in the past how, when I didn’t have said help for even one day, I would complain about it. But here I was, a whole month into the nationwide lockdown, doing things on my own at home without complaint for the most part, just like others were doing in their homes.
It wasn’t that I wasn’t grateful for the domestic help before the pandemic, but I relied on them more than I should have.
Another example: I hadn’t shaved myself in 10 years. I was used to simply going to the barbershop.
I guess you could say in some ways I was dependent on others for doing certain things. That said, I believe everyone should do what they do best, and let others do what they do best. I also believe one shouldn’t depend on others for doing their work if such a situation ever arises. While you may not be as efficient as those who work for you, you should — at the very least — be able to do those things when they’re absent, even if only for a short while.
This experience made me think of the other ways we depend on others. For instance, in the gated community I live in, we rely on the local government for continuous water supply. In fact, we pay them money to do something they are supposed to do anyway. We depend on electric companies to provide us utilities. We rely on outdoor markets for our vegetables and fruits.
There is no reason we couldn’t be saving our own water from the annual monsoons. That way, even when there isn’t enough rain during a season, we have more than enough water for our needs. We could make a long-term investment in solar panels for our electricity, which is modest compared to what we pay the companies now — are we rich enough to buy cheap things in perpetuity? — not to mention that solar energy is more sustainable. There is no reason why we can’t grow our own vegetables and fruits on terraces (i.e. urban farming).
In other words, we depend on others for things we can do by ourselves. We need to learn to be self-sufficient.
Coming back to our own selves, for which our dependence goes much deeper, we are all slaves to something. We are captive to our emotions, impulses, desires, and fears. We become slaves to our processes, our habits (physical and emotional), our routines, and our thinking. This is why our lives don’t change, because we keep doing the same things without questioning them. We are so busy doing all these things in our lives that we forget to consider whether we should be doing them at all.
We become slaves to our work, so much that it takes over our entire life. Let’s not forget, it’s only one aspect of our life. We also need to pay heed to other two areas: ourselves and our relationships, without which we would burn out sooner or later — it’s only a matter of time because something’s gotta give. I believe when we have all three, our life is in balance.
We are slaves to our addictions. In fact, we use them to live in denial. When we feel less than great on any given day, we suppress our emotions by way of food or drink. I know, for me personally, I used ice cream to satisfy this emotional hunger in the past. Now, there’s nothing wrong with having ice cream, or any guilty pleasure of your choice, as long as it’s not excessive. As Ben Franklin would say, we need to practice the value of temperance — eat not to dullness, and drink not to elevation.
There are times when we are slaves to our passions. I remember watching an interview of a billionaire who recounted a story of his golfing addiction. He found himself going to the course every day, so much so that his day was incomplete without it. Of course, it didn’t take long for him to realize he was addicted to the game.
One such morning, as he found himself on the way to the course, he suddenly realized his problem and asked the driver to turn around. He vowed he would not allow himself to get addicted to anything, golf included.
It just goes to show that no one is immune to dependence. We can’t let things outside of us control us. And yes, it’s always up to us.
Ironically, we get anxious about things that are outside of our purview. We rely on others for our happiness and well-being. We become emotionally dependent on them. We love others, hoping they will love us back — and when they don’t, we get depressed. We mirror their state of mind; when they are happy, we become happy, etc. We are always subject to others’ changing emotions because we lack a strong inner core to begin with. We dwell on our past and we hold onto things rather than letting them go. We become a prisoner to our own mind.
Seneca once aptly said:
No servitude is more abject than the self-imposed.
Here are some thoughts for learning to reduce our dependence on others and be more self-sufficient.
We need to learn to reduce our dependency on comfort and convenience, or our vulnerability will soon bring us down to our knees. We can learn the things that others do for us. While we don’t have to do them perfectly, we need to learn to do those things in a way that is manageable for us in their absence.
In my case, I ended up learning to live by myself for a few weeks without any domestic help. It gave me a world of confidence in reducing my dependence on others for my well-being going forward.
Epictetus wisely said:
Anyone who truly wants to be free won’t desire something that is actually in someone else’s control, unless they want to be a slave.
We need to remind ourselves that we are souls. There is nothing outside of us that we truly need. We don’t need external things to complete us. We are complete.
In the words of Seneca,
True happiness is to enjoy the present without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied, for he that is wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.
We can only love others. Whether we are loved in return is not in our hands. So, it’s better to love than to be loved — one is within our control, while the other is not. There is no reason to stress about the latter.
Sometimes, we change ourselves to fit in with others. In the process, we lose our own identity, and its only a matter of time before it starts affecting our relationships with others. Whether we do it out of our own volition or because others want us to change, we change because we are different from them.
This should make us question if we are in the right relationship to begin with. It’s because we are “in love” that we tend to lose all objectivity. It could very well be that there’s a clear value difference, but when we try to “force” things to keep the relationship going, nothing good comes from it, and is inevitably doomed to failure.
We find it hard to say no to others for fear of upsetting them or whatnot. We would rather be popular now than respected later. Can we really help others at the cost of our own self? We rely on others to feel how we feel about ourselves, but is that what we really want to do? It’s helping neither you nor them.
We need to take a long-term view on things and invest accordingly. I already shared one example of using solar energy for our electricity needs as both a long-term viability solution and a way to reduce our monthly bills. Over time, we would only have to pay for the maintenance cost of those panels, which I’d argue would be much cheaper than what we pay for our monthly bills to these companies.
We can learn to be more self-reliant.
Reducing our dependence on others doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask others for help. We live in an interdependent world. No one person can do or know everything. We need to play to our strengths. That doesn’t make us dependent on others; it only makes us work better with them and makes our weaknesses irrelevant, and vice-versa.
I have always believed everyone should do what they do best, because if you don’t let others play to their strengths, you are not only depriving them of putting their talents to use, you are also doing an injustice to the time you spend doing those things — since you aren’t as efficient at them — which takes your time from doing things that only you can do well. It’s a lose-lose for you and them.
There are some things we need to rely on others for, simply because it would take far too much time investment to try doing everything ourselves — but that’s not dependence. It’s called working together better.
We can all learn to be self-sufficient over time and reduce our dependency on others. It doesn’t have to be overnight, but it does need to happen, so that when push comes to shove, we are prepared for it. We don’t have to rely on others for our well-being. We are already complete.