Our culture prides itself on independence. Individual rights, Independence Day, "pulling one's self up by the bootstraps", the list goes on and on. While we have taken it too far, to the point where we spend too much time isolated from others and forget the needs of others (how often do we ignore the homeless guy on the street or forget to say thank you to our servers and bus drivers?), independence is something I value and cherish. I've become pretty financially independent in college, having paid my own rent since summer 2009, and I've lived my own life since attending school. I think young people, especially young women, need to learn independence. What do I mean by this?
Independence means being your own person. It means knowing yourself, knowing what makes you tick. It means learning to appreciate all your traits, with the intent of using them for good things. It means learning why you think negatively about other traits and trying to change how you use them (for me, it means not using my temper to lash out, but using the fire behind it as a motivation to make the world better instead of simply wishing I wasn't so fiery). It means embracing your own means of expression and developing your own interests and hobbies. Why are these important? It's these traits, these interests, these hobbies, that help you to develop your life's work and purpose. If you know who you are and own who you are, you can use this as direction for a few important decisions such as your education, your career choice, your future spouse. Independence means the courage to use this knowledge and make these choices, regardless (and sometimes despite) what family and friends say.
Independence means survival. People use this in the financial sense of the word (in the end, I have to present my own check to the landlord) but I mean this as a means of emotional survival as well. We all need the love of our family (whether biological or of our choosing), our friends, our communities, and our partners. At the same time, there are points when we need to depend on ourselves. People die, people leave our lives, people change so, as much as they love us, they can't and won't be around forever. I'm not advocating a hermitage type of existence where we simply eschew human contact. Instead, I'm saying that, while we should absolutely reach out to others and love people in spite of their faults, we can't depend on them to complete us. We need to show respect, we also need to demand respect. We should take time to just be alone (and not hooked to technology), in order to reflect on ourselves. Am I where I want to be? Am I who I want to be? Is this person good to me? Am I good to them? This not only helps us become better people, it helps us determine if those in our lives help us to be better people.
Independence does not mean we shut ourselves off from love or from our loved ones' desires to help us. It means constantly discerning whether these displays of love or help are actually loving or helping. It means becoming comfortable in your own skin, trusting in who you are to make positive change in your own life as well as in the lives of other people. Rather than isolating, independence can serve as a powerful mechanism to connect people. I would say that claiming the title of "Miss Independent" enabled me to love others better by helping me love myself (yes, people of faith, loving God means loving yourself because, guess what? You already believe that God made you). Kelly Clarkson was wrong when she equated it with refusing love. Strength means the ability to go it alone when you have to and only a strong heart can truly love others.