Taylor: Struggling with stereotypes

Lake Country columnist says we have an obsession with independence

By Jim Taylor

I don’t expect any more snow. Not around here, anyway. Because I just bought a snowblower.

Over the New Year, we had two massive dumps of snow. Over two feet deep—about 60 centimetres, the weather office reported. Too deep to drive through. But we had to get out for medical appointments and groceries, so I shovelled the driveway. By hand.

I’m getting too old for shovelling.

Joan and I talked about hiring a university student to clear the driveway. It would certainly cost less than a new snowblower. But I hated to admit that I needed help.

In a sense, my snowblower symbolizes our social obsession with independence.

It starts young. We encourage our children to do things for themselves, instead of depending on their parents. We expect young adults to earn their own way, to plot their own course. We expect older adults to keep on looking after themselves, despite disabilities.

A group of us guys get together, occasionally, to talk about growing older. We don’t have any choice about growing older, short of expiring. But we agree that we don’t want to grow “old.”

“Old” implies weak. Helpless. Unable to cope with credit cards or iPhones. Forgetful. Needing someone to supply the word we knew perfectly well when we started that sentence. Needing help to carry bags of groceries out to the car. If we have a car at all. Tripping. Falling.

“Old” means losing our precious independence.

Society has made independence an icon, a fetish, a sacred cow. From childhood on, we prize independence. To walk by ourselves. To earn our own incomes. To carve out our own career. To climb the ladder of success, without riding on anyone’s coattails.

Paul Anka wrote, and Frank Sinatra sang, the secular anthem, “I did it my way!”

Members of a seniors’ society in Calgary told me they had only one rule: No mention of driving in the second half of their meetings. Once people started venting about losing their licences, which implied losing their freedom, their independence, meetings could run an hour past closing.

The rational side of me says that independence is over-valued.

When we were infants and utterly dependent on our parents, we were loved just as much as—and probably more than—when we were teenagers.

Evolution is about the survival of the most co-operative. Ecosystems work together. Sponge cells—possibly the ancestor of all multi-cellular life—clustered so that some could filter, some digest, some excrete—each depending on the other to do its job.

In a memorable lecture, the apostle Paul compared a Christian community to parts of a body—each part dependent on other body parts to survive, let alone thrive.

Despite these examples, we seem to hate the idea of becoming dependent on others. Somebody—our children, our spouses, institutional staff—will have to do things for us that we used to do for ourselves. Dress us. Feed us. Bathe us. Advocate for us.

And apparently, we fear that will make us unlovable.

I know that’s nonsense. I keep telling myself, there’s no shame in needing help. In asking for help. In receiving help.

But apparently I don’t really believe it.

Or I wouldn’t have bought a snowblower.

Author Jim Taylor lives in Lake Country: rewrite@shaw.ca

Just Posted

Most Read