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Self Reliance vs Collaboration

personperson Don't believe everything you thinkthe liminal space Veteran

Someone shared a video story on Facebook that I'll link in case any one wants to watch but I'll sum up.
A guy is picking up 12 80 pound bags of concrete at the same time that someone else is returning the same. They load 11 easy to reach bags from one truck to the other. The last bag is up near the front of the truck bed and as the recipient offers to go get it the other man tells his 9 or 10 year old son to go get it. The bag is way too heavy for the kid and he says he can't do it and the first man offers to help again, but the father insists. The kid uses all his strength, prying his body up against the truck and pushing with his legs but it only moves a couple inches. The kid gets mad and cries that he can't do it, but his father persists. Anyway, it takes the kid like 10 minutes to move the bag, crying and protesting all the way but he is finally able to do it. He's so happy with himself and his dad and him high five and hug. The first man was really moved by the message about how when life looks impossible if you have the grit and determination to be able to scratch and claw and persist how it is possible to overcome challenges you never thought possible. Not only that, but the sense of confidence and mastery that can come with that. I found myself in agreement with him.

As I thought about it a bit though I thought if that is all the kid is taught he may not ever feel comfortable asking for help when actually needed. Often times we aren't up to a challenge or it would simply be better to have others help, we don't know everything.

And then I thought about it from the opposite side. Imagine a kid being taught to ask for help or cooperate with a task even though they were shy or wanted to do it themselves. What valuable lessons are being taught there about the ability to be vulnerable or the rewards of feeling connected to others. And also what potential downsides are there if that is all a child is taught? Learned helplessness a feeling of dependence?

So in the end I wind up seeking balance between the two. And appreciating the need for wisdom in being able to discern when one or the other approach may be most beneficial.

I also assume beyond what we teach children, people come out already fairly preprogrammed. So I think there is an important lesson about recognizing our own predilections. When they are strengths, when they are weaknesses and learning how to appreciate and incorporate the yin to our yang, the yang to our yin.



  • There is a core to the Bodhi apple. It is based on stillness. Our primary tool of well being. How do we encourage that stillness of mind, body and emotions?

    For me at the moment with my predilections that @person mentions:

    • daily yoga and meditation
    • finding the wellness in others, for example my elderly and ill mother taking up regular qi ong at 87
    • choosing to be encouraged for and by others
  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    @person said:
    I also assume beyond what we teach children, people come out already fairly preprogrammed.

    People will surprise you though. It’s not always straightforward telling what their backgrounds were and who is going to display some down-to-earth wisdom. Or anyway that is what I like to think, but then I am a bit of an optimist.

  • DavidDavid A human residing in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Ancestral territory of the Erie, Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat, Mississauga and Neutral First Nations Veteran
    edited February 2021

    I think we need a healthy sense of what we could contribute if our individual talents are nourished rather than a cookie-cutter style of social upbringing.

    I think we can be co-operatively self reliant in the sense that we all have the potential to get good at something and that is what we have to bring to the table but I don't think it can be forced. If our heart isn't really in it or we have no support, the potential to master whatever skill/art we are doing and the usefulness to the rest of us will suffer.

  • I have observed that there appears to be a teacher for every student, and a student for every teacher. As has been mentioned already in this thread, the key seems to be balance and avoiding a cookie-cutter mentality. When I first read @person's post I was reminded of an experience I had here on newbuddhist. Those members who have been around a while might recall that I became homeless for a short spell a few years back. A gofundme page was set up for me and newbuddhist members chipped in to keep a roof over my head.

    Those who were here at the time might remember my description of my mental state at the idea of accepting help. As desperate as I was - serious physical health issues that I was unlikely to survive on the streets through the Winter months, already in a deep depression before the separation from my wife that led to the homelessness and exacerbating the depression, and broke. Despite those factors, my aversion to accepting help was so strong that my therapist actually went so far as to recommend that I not accept the money until we could be relatively confident that the stress and anxiety over accepting needed help wasn't going to cause my death via heart attack or stroke.

    Though there is still some resistance to accepting help for myself, the resistance has diminished significantly and I probably fall under the bell curve of 'normal' in my capacity to do so today. That said, the refusals of help I begged for as a child, hard-wired a refusal to accept help. As I uncovered during the experience I just recalled, my fear was that if I accepted your help, I would then be rendered unlovable. While the child in the story might have a different operating system or software than I did as a child, such that he incorporates this lesson differently than I did, reading about this case brought up a lot of similar memories.

  • Thanks @yagr

    I consider myself a child or at least childish. That makes me vulnerable, so others have to protect me. Softness is hard.

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator

    As with most things, I think having a 'middle-way' approach here is best. In life, we need both skills, the ability to tackle a task on our own and find ways to accomplish it and the ability to cooperate and ask for help. Self-sufficiency needs to be balanced out by the ability to ask for and accept the help of others. Not every task requires help, and some (such as meditation), is ultimately a one-person job. But even then, advice and guidance is often needed to do it correctly or more skillfully.

    I think things like pride and delusion also plays a part. A healthy sense of pride in oneself is good, such as when one develops the resolve to take on a task and see it through. One can think of the Buddha's resolve to not get up from under the bodhi tree until awakening, for example. However, that can easily become unhealthy when we think that we don't need anyone's help and we always know better and refuse to listen to others or seek assistance when needed, which can leave us drifting away into some very dangerous waters. As yagr's story illustrates, it can very difficult to ask for or accept help when we truly need it, whether out of pride, delusion, or past conditioning from childhood.

    As we see in the suttas, wisdom is often describe in terms of knowing what will be for our long-term welfare and happiness and having the discernment to do the most skillful thing available to us; and I think that applies here as well. Just as there is a skill in developing generosity and giving, there is also a skill in accepting generosity. The same is true for self-reliance and collaboration. In the West, and particularly in America, I think the tendency is to encourage the former and discourage the latter. The idea of rugged individualism is a huge part of American culture, and I think it's difficult for us to both ask and accept help. But the more we understand and internalize teachings such as not-self, emptiness, generosity, and interconnectedness, the more I think we're able to be more open to it and have the ability to discern when each skill is the best tool for the job.

  • Thanks @Jason

    We have conditioned tendencies as you mention. National, cultural, socialised, peer pressure, parental and so on.

    This is where the Middle Way template, which I consider one of the best, informs and sustains new and better choices.

    Dukkha/ignorance/life storm, needs a little stilling. We need a degree of independence from our accumulated karma.

    A quiet moment of pause ... A breath of stilled/empty thought.

  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    @lobster said:
    I consider myself a child or at least childish. That makes me vulnerable, so others have to protect me. Softness is hard.

    I have thought for a while now that human beings are like matrushka dolls, made up out of shells. We still carry inside us the child that we once were, only he/she is shielded by the layers we have built up on our journey to maturity. And often somewhere in that process we acquire blockages which prevent us from going within.

    Im very aware of my inner child as well, sometimes I think I am still pretty much the same person I was when I was 15. And that makes me happy — I am pleased to have carried a bit of the pureness and innocence and openness I had as a child through into adulthood.

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