Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Independence - Is It Really Good?

Once upon a time my great grandfather was a very rich man. He owned numerous lands and farms. He didn’t want his children to go to school – anything not related to farming was a waste of time. One day, due to uncontrollable circumstances, he had to leave the country he was so rich in, and come to Oman. He lost all his lands. Because he was pretty much hopeless in anything else, and barely had any friends around to help him out, he worked as a truck driver. His older kids got similar jobs – construction, driving, garbage collectors etc. while his younger kids went to school. He was married to 2 wives with 15+ kids in total, and they all had to live in a 2 bedroom apartment. That was all they could afford. Did his independence help? I don’t think so.

Taking a nation-wide example, look at Iraq. Before the war in 2003, Iraq was pretty much independent in terms of infrastructure – roads, electricity, water, telecoms. Leaving aside all the political issues, Iraq was actually doing quite well in terms of quality of service –better than the GCC at the time. The war came, and 7 years later the country’s infrastructure is still in chaos! You can say it’s America’s fault; they’re not really putting an effort. However, if Iraq wasn’t INDEPENDENTLY providing these services through its ministries – if the providers were actually international companies – America’s interference in Iraq would’ve at least respected those companies (to keep their own international relationships at peace) and the current state of infrastructure services in Iraq wouldn’t have been this hectic. Hell, it could’ve prevented the war in the first place – by way of strong opposition from the other countries (them having their stakes in Iraq at risk). So while being independent was great for a certain period of time, it made Iraq exposed to greater risks in the long run which are now materializing.
In the situations above, risks were inevitable, and being independent didn’t help – it was actually a risk in itself. And this could apply to all of you, dearest readers. Leaving aside financials, let’s look at the effects of independence from family: a major difference between the civilized world and third world countries (e.g. Oman). Individualism VS Collectivism.

For a civilised family, once the kids become adults they have to learn how to be “independent” – live alone, pay their own expenses, and simply learn life the difficult way. And they do. They grow up, get married, create their own families, and eventually become really independent from their parents – it’s OK to dump them in an elderly home (I know I’m generalizing, but I talk about the majority here). Their independence transfers to their own kids, who also put them in an elderly home when their time comes. For “civilized” parents, it’s so important to have a pension fund, to “secure” their future by financial means.

On the other hand, not too long ago a whole Omani family would live in the same house, or on the same piece of land, for 3 or more generations (i.e. with the grandparents and aunts and uncles). Knowing you’re mother’s 3rd cousin’s in-laws’ grandfather was normal (maybe because it was your own grandfather, but you know what I mean). The interesting bit is not only knowing distant relatives, but actually being able to help them out, or get some sort of support from them, when either party falls into trouble. A “sabla” – a big living room open for all men – was essential in every city. The sablaat (plural) and/or mosques provided means of communication, discussion, raising issues in society, and opportunities for INTERDEPENDENCE – not independence.

Speaking from a Muscat-raised point of view, the current situation is quite different. A married man still living in his parents’ house could be deemed a disgrace. The importance of each individual is getting highlighted (as I explained earlier) – and consequently we’re investing more of our time and money on establishing ourselves, furthering our careers, building our future to be independent rather than building stronger relationships with family members, staying in touch, and having a wider circle of friends/family (although I must admit Facebook is helping A LOT). Nevertheless, visits have become cumbersome. Slowly we’re becoming, apparently, “civilized”.

Are we sure we want to? Do we actually realize what’s going on, or are we just blindly imitating the majority? Do we believe that if we work harder and strengthen ourselves to be independent then we’d be able to overcome the major stumbling blocks in life?

I don’t. No matter how much time, money, and effort is spent on becoming better, it’ll never be sustainable – look at my rich great grandfather, powerful Iraq, or the civilized parents – although independent; they all couldn’t carry on being wealthy, powerful and satisfied. It’s worth more to spend that time, money and effort on helping family, friends and strangers. What we call, “التكافل الاجتماعي” – social solidarity.So I don’t think independence is all that, what do YOU think? Agree? Disagree? Give it to me, I want a debate!


  1. I have a problem with your terming individualistic societies as CIVILIZED when collectivist ones are THIRD WORLD, and thus UNCIVILIZED.

    I cant be sure of the figures as this was along time ago (In college) but as far as i remember a country like Japan is closer to the collectivist side. So your terming is completely wrong.

    To say WESTERN INFLUENCED = Individualistic and EASTERN INFLUENCED = collective is much more accurate.

    Are we sure we want to?

    Yes and no. Speaking from a child of 2 totally different cultures, I have seen the benifits and DRAWBACKS of both, my mom's family are more materialistic as you have sated, the second one is 18, and thus of legal age, they are almost kicked out of their home, and in 20 years their parents wonder why they dnt visst.

    On he other hand, going off on your own can have it's benifits for sure, although our cultures strive for a social solidarity, some aspects of modern life has actually made this a problem, for example, in the past you would have 3 generations living together as you pointed out, the reason was to keep the strong social ties.

    Today you STILL see this in the UAE alot, but many times the reasons are not the same, usually it's to save money.

    Our mentality has changed, but not always towards western ways, in some instances I think that we are floating around trying to fit dfferent blocks, or ideas, into different holes, or situations, to see what can fit, and what fits well, so that the options are there.

    Education is important, and so is instilling a sense of excellence and work into a new generation, but I think we should never forget who we are in terms of social bonds. A person should always have the feeling of calm knowing that his/her family is THERE for them.

    Just as long as being THERE for them doesnt = them taking advantage of their families.

    Interesting post indeed.

  2. take the best of both worlds.. be independent financially and be collective emotionally.

  3. Why do you assume that is the best of both worlds? Why not be independent emotionally, so that you cant be hurt, and collective financially, so that you can sit around and do nothing!

    I now want a sugar mama! Some rich old lady to spend on me!

  4. Thought provoking! I'll let it sink in before I chip in with a point of view...

  5. as-salaam aleikum wa rahmatullah,

    hmmmm this post really makes you think doesn't it?

    There are pros and cons to each side I think... though my American family, who grew up with the independence mentality hasn't sent my grandparents to an elderly home just because they are in need of care. The family rotates the responsibilities between the siblings to take care of them MashaAllah.

    But I do know this isn't the norm.

    I can see where the independence mentality has changed the dynamics of family values in the US though. It has pretty much become a "to each his own" kind of thing in some ways.

    all in all I pretty much agree with what ultra[blue] said :)

  6. I would choose independence hands down. The independence to choose who I want to depend on. The independence to choose when I want to be alone. The independence to choose to work very hard and be lonely, if it means that no one will monitor my life. The only dependence I allow myself is those of my children on me.

  7. Apologies everyone, I'm out of the country and couldn't come back to blogging! Will respond to the excellent thoughts of each sooooooon....

  8. all in all I pretty much agree with what ultra[blue] said :)

    Even about me sitting at home and having a sugar mama to spend on me?!


  9. I think that we should try and separate independence from being completely aleianted from your own family. I mean, you can be independent and still a productive family member. This is the case with many families here in Egypt; adult members are independent in their own houses and having their own families but the parents will never see a home for the elderly because they always stay at one of their kids' houses or they stay at their own house and get regular visits from the children.

    So, to me at least, the idea that independence will automatically mean social alienation and staying away from your family; is a strange one.

    Great post; I loved the way you expressed yourself in such an organized and interesting way!


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