Achieving self-reliance is a worthy goal for individuals, parents, and families. Being self-reliant brings a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that cannot be achieved in any other way.
What is Self-Reliance?
Self-reliance is the ability of a person to take care of himself or herself in several different areas of life, including financially, spiritually, emotionally, socially, and in other aspects of a person’s existence. Self-reliance also extends out and looks for opportunities to help other people and give back. The dictionary definition of self-reliance focuses on being able to rely upon one’s own abilities and resources. However, the word self-reliance itself is a bit of a misnomer, because no person truly stands on his or her own. The essence of self-reliance involves taking accountability of your own welfare by actively choosing to use your God-given talents and abilities to provide for your own needs.
Self-reliance is most often viewed in the perspective of temporal needs: money, food, clothing, housing, etc. However, there are obviously many other components to self-reliance in addition to making enough money to not have to go into debt or rely upon others for those temporal needs. For instance, developing the social skills that make you capable of interacting with people at work is part of self-reliance. Learning to have the discipline required to keep from losing your temper with your spouse or children so that you can have a fulfilling marriage and family life, besides avoiding divorce, is also an important part of being self-reliant.
Ultimately, the concept of self-reliance is closely associated with the broader concept of simply becoming a better person. Self-reliance, however, focuses on those parts of self-improvement that ensure that a person is taking care of his own temporal needs.
The Spiritual Foundation of Self-Reliance
As I consider my commitment to being self-reliant, it’s obvious to me how much of that commitment stems from my religious beliefs. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (more commonly referred to as the Mormon Church), discussions about self-reliance are second-nature considering how they fit into our worldview. We believe that our potential as humans, the literal offspring of the Creator of this world, is unlimited. Achieving our full potential involves consistently becoming better, more educated, more humble, more compassionate, more charitable, more capable, ultimately working to match our character with the Being of whom it was said:
Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?
Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?
It is a very deeply entrenched part of LDS culture to strive to have our own temporal needs in order such that we can “give good gifts” (or any kind of assistance, be it financially, by way of mentorship, etc.) to our own children as well as to others who similarly find themselves in need. In fact, because of our dedication to self-reliance in Mormon culture, the term self-reliance itself has become a term that closely associated with the church more so than any other institution I’m familiar with.
Self-Reliance Versus Government Run Welfare
Whereas self-reliance often involves giving people a hand up. Welfare, especially in the United States, where the “safety net” program is executed poorly by government agencies, is more interested in giving people simply a handout. Welfare as I’ll refer to it here, is simply giving temporal sustenance to the poor and needy, usually in a way that creates dependence.
The net impact of the two positions is diametrically opposite.
When the self-reliance approach is used, a person tends to develop more freedom, more self-worth, a sense of accomplishment and improvement, better overall mental and social health. When the welfare approach is used, dependence upon government programs usually ensues. The net outcome tends to be negative for the recipient.
It can be difficult for a compassionate person sometimes to distinguish between constructive self-reliance efforts and destructive welfare alternatives. As I’ve seen my life prospered and as my businesses have grown, I’ve accidentally participated in giving in ways that create a welfare situation rather than promoting self-reliance. What I’ve discovered is that the major distinction between the two is this: welfare tends to do for people what they could and should do for themselves, whereas self-reliance is much more about stepping in and helping someone who is trying, but simply needs help through financial contributions sometimes, but through mentoring and skill develop more often.
Self-reliance teaches a man to fish instead of always handing him a fish in such a way that he loses his ability desire to provide for himself.
Conservative Versus Liberal Ideology
This topic of self-reliance versus welfare is one that provides a clear division between two very opposite ends of the political and social spectrum. There is an ongoing and most often intensely heated debate about how to handle the poor and underprivileged in America. In fact, the upcoming 2020 election brings this topic to the forefront. Offers for free college, free healthcare, free everything from people like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and other Democrat presidential candidate don’t consider that providing those things for “free” (they’re not actually free; they’re essentially stolen from others through taxation) doesn’t help the recipients become better. Instead, it entitles them, making them beholden to an ideology that ultimately destroys the economy that has, because of its past dedication to operating on principles of self-reliance, become prosperous enough to provide the opportunity in the first place.
I sometimes hear people with a liberal leaning in my own church, which is predominantly conservative as our doctrines align most closely with conservative thinking, talk about the idea that a mindset towards government welfare is more Christian, because Jesus was all about helping the poor and the needy.
Indeed Jesus’ mission in life, as a man who Christians believe was perfect, the literal Offspring representative of God in mortality, included helping the poor, healing the lame and otherwise afflicted, being a friend to those who struggled. However, Jesus’ instructions to the world and to his disciples had nothing to do with having a compulsory government be in charge of operating a welfare plan.
Probably the biggest distinctions between the conservative and liberal approaches towards helping the unfortunate is the source of the funds used and the method of procuring them in programs that promote self-reliance as opposed to those who favor government-operated welfare.
Funds used for socialistic welfare programs always come from using someone else’s money sourced involuntarily. Working citizens are taxed by the government to have their money redistributed (most often in ways that are highly inefficient and rife with corruption) to other people who use the money for purposes and programs that are often not in alignment with the desires and intentions of those funding the programs.
Funds used in self-reliance programs are normally contributions made by volunteers who most often religiously motivated, and whose objective in donating is to help people help themselves.
Foundations of Self-Reliance
There are several different subject areas that comprise the foundation of self-reliance. I’m going to review what I feel are the most important of those topics, including: education, emergency preparedness, employment, finances, and physical health, spirituality.
A major purpose of this life is to gain valuable experience and to learn. We begin learning even before we’re born, and that process continues throughout our lives. Some have more opportunities for formal education and skills training, while others lack those resources.
Education is one of the key components to self-reliance. From learning to read as a child to receiving formal schooling in a specialized field that allows us to provide for ourselves and our families financially, getting a solid education makes all the difference in one’s ability to be self-reliant.
Education in the 21st century is much more accessible than it has ever been. The internet makes it possible for a person to take piano lessons on YouTube, learn how to start and build a business through online courses such as those found on Udemy and other other community teaching platforms, or to even get a degree from an accredited university.
I consider this website itself a project in education. Much of the content I’m writing about on Prosperopedia.com require me to do significant research, after which I then have to articulate what I’ve learned to the audience of people who visit here.
Using Intelligence With Education: One of the great tragedies of our modern era is the situation wherein higher education has become a burden for the majority of the US population. The culture of placing an exaggerated level of importance on obtaining a college degree that developed after the Great Depression, during which time having a formal higher education often separated the haves from the have-nots, has create a problem. There are nearly 50 million Americans currently shouldering nearly $1.5 trillion in student loan debt. Many of those (about 11%) who have student loan debt are at least three months behind in making their payments.
There is very little reason to go into debt to get an education, especially in situations where there is no robust plan in place for a student to complete an education and be prepared to pay off that debt efficiently and in a way that doesn’t compromise the graduate’s ability to thrive in other areas of self-reliance.
Life is full of the unexpected. Regardless of where you live and how risky of a lifestyle you live, this planet is unpredictable. Fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, even more isolated events like getting stuck outside in a snowstorm or getting lost while hiking can turn into emergencies quickly.
Self-reliance includes being able to deal with emergencies. It involves developing a skill set that makes you capable of responding to situations like dehydration, drowning, electrical shock, bleeding, and other situations that could take a person’s life.
Much of this emergency training was provided to young men, their leaders, and to communities in general through the Boy Scouts of America, but since that organization has lost its identity over the past few decades and will soon no longer exist, you’re better of turning to alternative resources for help with emergency preparedness.
Most local municipalities offer training to people interested in helping themselves and their neighbors during times of disaster. Ready.gov has established a program called Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) that is a fairly comprehensive approach to emergency preparedness.
Another vital component of emergency preparedness is having food and supplies on hand to survive during times of hardship. The LDS Church is one of the leading sources of information about principles of preparation, especially with regard to food storage. The pamphlet All is Safely Gathered In is a good place to start making a plant for storage and supply preparedness.
Employment is the means whereby a person secures income to provide for himself or herself and for a family. Having good employment is highly contingent on having a good work ethic, combined with acquiring education and often specialized skills. When a person becomes capable of contributing in a meaningful way to a company and to the larger economy, he becomes self-reliant from the employment perspective.
In the past, previous to the twenty-first century, access to the best jobs often required a college degree or even a graduate degree. That requirement is no longer nearly as important as it used to be for many of the new and emerging technical industries, where experience is often valued more highly than a four-year or degree advanced degree.
Also, there are many more opportunities for those who choose to go out on their own and be small business owners as opposed to fitting themselves into an employee position in a company. For instance, without even having a college degree or any real previous experience, a person can start and build a six-figure income within a year’s time by finding products on clearance and shipping them into Amazon to be sold at a price high enough to make a profit, with the fulfillment of orders all done by Amazon. I know many people who have made this their full-time occupation.
Creating a blog and being consistent at posting on it to build an audience (attracting traffic from search engines and social media) is an employment strategy that has worked well for tens of thousands of people who make their entire living writing and publishing content, then monetizing their audiences through ads, affiliate relationships, and other well-established, proven methods. This is the exact employment model I’m using for this website, Prosperopedia.com.
My wife and I have spent almost our entire marriage running our own internet businesses. Once in awhile I have come across and taken opportunities to work for a company, but usually those only last a few months to accomplish specific objectives.
In either case, working for a company or working for myself, I’ve realized how important it is to stay current on employment trends, including continuing to develop skills that are marketable.
The bottom line with employment is that there are plenty of opportunities for a person who is determined to provide for his or her own needs to get a good job, to move up through skill development and more education, and to be intentional about securing income. A self-reliant person understands the importance of being active and assertive about pursing employment opportunities and finding a rewarding way to contribute to society by working.
Managing finances is one of the most common topics of self-reliance. Especially in a credit-based, consumer society that has emerged in the past several decades, the skill of being able to ensure that your income outpaces your expenditures is a critical one.
At the very least, a person who is self-reliant spends time each month evaluating past activities and habits, then planning and executing a strategy to increase income, reduce expenditures, invest money, and be charitable through giving to a church or other worthwhile cause.
Financial support programs (mostly focusing on debt reduction since that’s the situation most common to contemporary American households, but also training on saving, investing, and otherwise building wealth) are available through a myriad of financial gurus, the most popular of which is Dave Ramsey with his Financial Peace University program, which is popular for presenting a set of 7 baby steps to go from being in debt to starting to build significant wealth.
Physical health involves getting plenty of sleep, eating a healthy diet, exercising, and otherwise taking care of your body so that you can experience fulfillment in your life.
Even the wealthy understand that an abundance of money won’t necessarily protect you from being unhealthy. Physical health requires discipline and living with intention similar to the other foundational principles of self-reliance.
Being healthy requires eating not just for pleasure, but with a purpose of feeding your body the best kinds of fuel so that it perform well for doing your work, enjoying free time, and generally feeling well. Being healthy requires you to keep your body active, which can be very hard to do with a busy schedule outside of doing a desk job all day. Being healthy means getting to bed on time, sleeping deeply, and waking up to a fresh start as often as possible. Having a healthy body involves actively managing stress so that it doesn’t weigh you down and cause anxiety, mental sickness or disease.
Spirituality is the lens through which all of these other principles of self-reliance can be viewed. Having religious beliefs to provide purpose for your life, which extends infinitely beyond the short period of time we spend as mortals during our current existence, gives us a bigger, broader, more meaningful perspective as opposed to those who reject spiritual inclinations in favor of believing that there is no God and that there is no purpose to life.
Developing spirituality should be a lifelong pursuit. For my family, we educate our children with spiritual and religious beliefs naturally integrated with secular learning about history, geography, science, math, business, and other subjects that form the foundation of what society considers to be a proper education.
A set of verses from a section of my church’s modern scripture (called the Doctrine and Covenants) provides a brilliant explanation of how God, with his eternal perspective, views our existence. Speaking to Joseph Smith, the Lord explains the purpose for giving commandments:
34 Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal; neither any man, nor the children of men; neither Adam, your father, whom I created.
35 Behold, I gave unto him that he should be an agent unto himself; and I gave unto him commandment, but no temporal commandment gave I unto him, for my commandments are spiritual; they are not natural nor temporal, neither carnal nor sensual.
From this and other prophetic teachings in the Bible and in other religious texts, it is clear that everything we do to improve ourselves and better our lives should be done in view of how it affects us in the eternal realm. Even the most arrogant and unteachable of scholars can see that the period of time we spend in this life is very short compared to even the age of this world as best we can measure it. It’s not hard to conceive of our lives beginning long before we were born and extending well beyond our death in a spiritual form.
Society’s understanding of good and evil, our foundation for civil laws and civility come from religious beliefs. Spending the appropriate amount of time developing our spiritual natures should be a priority for every person who wants to become self-reliant.
For me, my commitment to being self-reliant is tied very closely to my religious beliefs. I’ve written before about using Joseph in Egypt as a model for how I want to be: selfless, disciplined, loyal, a giver. Doing everything I can to stay in touch with a divine power and receiving guidance about where to live, where to focus your time, who to marry, how to manage your family, and other elements of my life has been highly beneficial for me financially and in every other aspect of my life.
Regarding this spiritual connection with the principles of self-reliance, Joseph Smith made a comment that portrays the essence of having achieved self-reliance:
A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race.
– Joseph Smith