Self Reliance and Community

Everything is falling apart. Or at least, that’s what a lot of people seem to think, and it often feels like that. Many people I know are concerned about where things are going in our country and world. And so they want to be prepared, they want to be able to support themselves.

Reliance: noun 1. confident or trustful dependence 2. confidence 3. something or someone relied on

There’s this self-reliant ideal, often tied to the idea of homesteading. Let me paint a picture.

A small house sits back from the road, surrounded by trees. Some solar panels cover the roof. Smoke swirls out of the chimney. A wire and light wood fence runs around a massive garden filled with growing plants. Bright crimson tomatoes, bushy beans, massive lettuces.

A pile of wood sits under a small lean-to against the house. A shed sits a bit farther away, and back near a field there is a barn. A few cows and sheep graze the pasture, and a whole bunch of chickens scratch at the ground near the barn.

A generator and several batteries sit in the shed, the walls lined with tools. In the pantry jars and cans fill the shelves. A well supplies the water. A woodstove heats the living room. Emergency kits are stashed in various corners. There’s a gun safe in the basement.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with this picture. Having food and some land isn’t the problem. Being off the grid and being prepared for emergency situations isn’t the problem either.

The problem is something not so obvious. It comes from the term “self-reliance”. In the western world, there’s a strong push for individualism in reaction to the push for communism. You are in charge of yourself vs the government is in charge of you. You can supply all of your own needs vs the government or everyone else supplies what they think you need. You have control over your property vs the government owns and controls everything.

In many ways, individualism is better then the alternatives. But I think our society has lost track of something rather important: community. People are so busy thinking about themselves or their own families that they forget about those around them. It’s not entirely their faults. Technology is a key player in this problem. In trying to bring people together, it’s pushed people apart. Now I could go down a whole rabbit trail about social media, ect. but I won’t at least this time.

How has technology pushed people apart? It enables people over long distances to connect. “But wait-isn’t that good?” You may be asking. Yes, it is good, and personally I am so thankful for it. But it means that we can go off and live in the middle of nowhere and still have connections with people and the world. Online community is a very poor imitation of real community. If your car broke down and you really need to get groceries, people on the other side of the world can’t help you much. But the person next door could help by lending their car. It enables us to learn things from anywhere instead of going to the local expert for advice. In other words, it’s disconnected us from the real world.

As much as we’d like to be able to do everything to provide for ourselves, it’s just not realistic. I can learn how to spin and make cloth and make clothes, and perhaps also learn how to garden and preserve food, but I’d never be able to learn or have the time by myself to build a house, be a blacksmith, raise animals, teach children, do farm chores, run a small business, go hunting, dig a well, generate power, or make pottery. I could learn a bit of each of these skills, but where would I find the time?

This is where community comes in. Basically everyone, in some way, longs for community. They want people that can come alongside them and support them through the thick and the thin, who can laugh with them, cry with them. Those who are artistic seem to have an even sharper desire, that or they just express it more. They want people who can help them shape their skills and talents, who can work on projects with them. We weren’t created to be alone, we’re supposed to have fellowship with God and with man. This is especially true for the church family.

Wouldn’t it be beautiful if instead of only trying to provide for our own needs, we instead sought to care first for others? I don’t have to learn everything, I can learn a few things and then share the results with others, and they in turn can learn other skills and share the results with me. I can be a teacher, and someone else can be a doctor. I don’t have to be everything. If I’m alone and my roof collapses in a storm, a community can give me shelter and help me rebuild. If someone is sick, then I can give them meals or help with a few chores. We can share meals together, build together, and should some disaster come, we can support each other and survive together.

Of course, this doesn’t really work when everyone you know lives half an hour away or in another country. So we have to build physical communities and live together, not to isolate from the world or form some sort of cult, but to live how we are supposed to live. Create small towns dedicated to helping each other. We should be community-reliant.