Our seminar leader asked us to draw a personal timeline, and label it with key dates of life transitions and defining moments.
My tablemate sighed. “I’ve done so many of these.”
“Me too,” I whispered, but not since I’d crossed the line of faith. I penned in my birth date.
When we were finished, the leader told us to look for themes on our timelines.
The dominant theme on my timeline is self-reliance. I’ve invested time and money in classes, books and thought systems to become self-reliant. Independent. I don’t need nobody.
I remember one of my first dates with my now husband. I’d bought a case of beer. He offered to carry it from my car, to the apartment building, and up the stars to my apartment. I refused his help. I carried that case, the bottles jangling, my fingers hurting. Dang! This bugger’s heavy. He offered to carry it several times. I refused each time. Self-reliance, in this instance, was a form of pride.
With hindsight, I know that I was denying him a chance to do something for me. In a way, I was insulting him.
Anyhow, after I looked at my timeline, I remembered an old book that I’ve kept because I thought it was worth a re-read.
I opened the drawer of my bedside table and there it was, the pages yellowed like an old smoker’s teeth. “Beyond Success and Failure: Ways to Self-reliance and Maturity,” by Willard and Marguerite Beecher.
Paging through the book now with the scales removed from my eyes, I can say that I still agree with the authors’ basic premise, which is, we’re not to be blown willy-nilly by others’ opinions. Don’t lean others emotionally.
“In BEYOND SUCCESS & FAILURE, the Beechers help you to find your own direction & your own abilities to handle any & all confronting problems. They show how you can find your own center of gravity inside yourself & begin to know the satisfaction that flows from using your own talents & living as a responsible adult. Only those who are self-reliant emotionally & physically can function as adult human beings able to cooperate with other adults, because life demands that we be useful & productive, or as Adler said, to ‘be a help & not a burden.’” (excerpt from Amazon.com)
The aim of “Beyond Success and Failure” is to teach us to rely on ourselves. The undertaking is inherently flawed.
I will sound like one of those philosophers that leaves me tangled in a hairball of words, but, here goes…
What is each of us but a physical being housing an other? Just as with all the others out there who we don’t want to lean on emotionally, we each are ourselves an other upon whom we don’t want to lean. Why would our internal other automatically be a better pillar to lean on than the others outside of us?
For example, let’s say I hunger for acceptance. So, to feel accepted I lean on others for approval. I buy a new car every year so other people will think I’m rich and cool, and accept me.
If I’m self-reliant, I am still going to hunger for acceptance, but the Beechers will have armed me with clever ways to distract or outsmart or numb the hunger. Self-reliance requires that I rely on the same person (me) that is the source of the hunger. I’m stuck in a closed-loop system. I’m treading up and down wacky staircases depicted in M.C. Escher’s lithograph titled “Relativity”, and never venturing beyond the confines of the picture frame.
“Beyond Success and Failure” is a fascinating read. The authors missed something, though.*
The only reliable Other to lean on is Jesus.
(They do quote scripture at least twice in my 1976© Pocket Books version.)