What is Independence?

I’m back! I know it’s been faaar too long since I wrote my last blog post and I’m not going to make any excuses because… well, because I don’t have any!

I’ve been thinking about the subject for this blog post for some time now, because about a year ago I asked myself the question ‘What does it really mean to be independent?’. I consider myself to be extremely independent, and it is very important to me to remain that way. Others don’t see this though, because I’m disabled.

So, what is independence? Or maybe I should start by asking, what has independence meant to you in your lifetime? Maybe it was when you passed your driving test, got your first job or moved into your first house. Maybe it was going to university, leaving school or just moving out of your parents’ house.

Let’s look at the dictionary definition for the word ‘independence’. According to an (admittedly old) Collins dictionary it means to not be dependent or rely on others, completely self-governing and too self-respecting to ask for help. If we take these definitions, then, independence is about doing everything for yourself. How realistic is this, though? Can we really do everything for ourselves without any input whatsoever from anybody else? Surely the nature of humanity is to do things with other people anyway?

I want to briefly illustrate a different meaning of independence. Nick Vujicic is a world-renowned motivational speaker. Between 2007 and 2010 alone he delivered 1000 talks, took 600 flights, spoke in schools, churches, orphanages and made numerous public appearances. Oh, and he reached five million people.

Impressive?

Nick has no arms, and no legs.

But wait, if he’s got no arms and no legs how can he possibly be so independent? It’s because he relies on others to help him with the things he finds difficult so he can get on with living a life, in his words, without limits. His independence is completely the opposite to what the dictionary says it should be, because his reliance on others is what makes him so independent.

It took me a long time to realise that this was true for me, too; that by allowing myself to rely on others I could be so much more independent. The penny finally dropped when I went to Hereward College, a college for disabled students, at 16. I lived there during term-time and had to get used to different people helping me. Now those of you who know me know how stubborn I am, and I guess up until then I’d been stubbornly independent, wanting to do everything I possibly could for myself, regardless of how difficult it might be. Going to college, however, made me realise that it was OK to ask for help sometimes, and that doing this enabled me to do so much more.

Fast forward six years. I left college and moved to Bristol for university and have stayed here since.  I’m still determined to be as independent as possible, but that no longer means doing everything myself. I can’t drive, but I still have a car and employ a driver so I can get where I want to go when I want to go. I employ PA’s to help me around the flat. I don’t need much, but the PA support I have is what has made me so independent. I still do as much as I can for myself, but I don’t have to push it and do absolutely everything. What’s important, though, is that I can direct people to do what I need doing. I may rely on others, but everything they do for me, they’re doing because I’ve asked them to and I’ve given direction as to how I want it done and when I need their help.  That’s independence.

This view of independence is true for everyone, regardless of whether you have a disability or not.  Dependence isn’t necessarily the opposite of independence; in fact, by allowing yourself to rely on somebody else you can create your own independence.

Think back to those moments in your life when you felt you became more independent. Wasn’t there always at least one other person helping you make that transition? After all, I’m sure you didn’t just hop in a car for the first time and start driving down the motorway having had no lessons (at least I hope not…).

So let me suggest that we redefine independence. For me, it means knowing what you want, making your own decisions and living life the way you want to.

Check out Nick Vujicic on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/NickVujicicTV

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