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Taoism, Zen and tai chi all address the topic of self-reliance. Being an integrated, complete person, with balanced intellect, emotions and instincts is very important.
It is not possible to employ skills in combat if you are accustomed to leaning on other people. You must be prepared to take a stand. Alone. That is what self defence really means.
When a student has integrity, they are self-contained, whole, strong. The very word 'integrity' carries with it very positive, confident connotations.


Children are dependent upon their parents. They take no real responsibility for their own welfare. Someone else does it for them.
One of the hallmarks of being an adult is that you take care of yourself. Indeed, you may even take care of other people. A grown-up does not expect to be carried.
It would be immature/infantile to expect somebody else to support you. Unless of course you are ill or have a major disability.
Dogs are reliant upon their owners. Human adults can take care of themselves.


Part of maturity involves learning to stand upright. You can no longer crawl on all-fours. This act of being upright and facing life is significant.
People who refuse to face their own problems are seen to have "no backbone" or are considered to be "spineless". Standing-up involves doing it by yourself. For yourself.
Without aid or assistance, or any form of safety net or fallback.


Leaning on other people cultivates a weakness of character. Instead of addressing your own problems, you make them someone else's. This is reminiscent of the koan:

One day Chao-chou fell down in the snow, and called out, "Help me up! Help me up!"

A monk came and lay down beside him. Chao-chou got up and went away.



Sometimes people do need help, and it is then OK to ask for help. But do not ask if you do not need it.

Faux helplessness

Some people practice a form of apparent helplessness. Instead of acting, they refrain. They dither and wait. They pretend to be inept, incapable, out of their depth...
Eventually, somebody else assists them. This is quite manipulative and weak.
When you lean on someone else, you give them control over you. They become your prop and you are reliant upon them for support.
Being carried is fine if you are infirm. If you are a healthy adult, then you are just being lazy and using people. What does this say about you?


If you are required to face your own problems and work through them, you become stronger. Hardship challenges you. You learn to adapt, change and improvise.
A person who faces adversity knows loss and sorrow. They also know joy. And the satisfaction of having done something for themselves.
When things are just handed to you, what is gained? What is learned?

Foot binding

In ancient China the feet of noble women were bound. This practice prevented the woman from taking care of herself. She was forced into a position of dependence.
This was considered to be a sign of wealth. The same applies to reliance. Most people do not have a rich benefactor. They must take care of themselves. They may even have a family to support.
Only the wealthy can afford to sit back and let somebody else do the work. Most people simply do not have the means.

We take refuge in pride because we are afraid to tell the truth to ourselves.

(Kakuzo Okakura)


A dependent person is a 'taker'. They have the same attitude as a young child. They expect to be provided for. In an adult this is distasteful.
The parasitic qualities demonstrated by a taker often backfire. The provider may grow tired of giving. They may deny the taker. They may feel taken advantage of. This could lead to resentment.

The easy life...

Relying on other people can lead to weakness. Apathy, boredom, restlessness and indifference are common. Life is too easy. Something is lacking: the taker is lacklustre.
Passion is absent. The taker has no shen, no verve. No vigour. When faced with difficulty, the taker becomes afraid. They are not sure what to do.
They are hoping that somebody else will come along and help them out.


Instead of facing adversity, people hide. They hide behind alcohol, drugs, jobs, commitments, a large car, prestige, status, money. It is easier to hide than to be brave.
Bravery takes courage. There is a high risk of failure, and no one to save you. Far simpler to hide behind possessions, to get drunk, to pretend that you do not care. It is easy to be impotent.


Being self-reliant requires guts. You take responsibility for things. You do not want to be carried. You face your fears. Fear comes from thinking rather than acting.
The more present you are - in the here and now - the less fear you will experience. When you are in your body, rooted in the moment, you are not afraid.

The inconvenient truth?

It is easy to pretend that you are self-reliant. To convince yourself that you are not a taker. Denial is more palatable than truth.
Admitting your own immaturity, idleness and weakness of character is no mild task. You can hide behind clever arguments, rationalisations, justifications.
These are just ego-defences, intended to maintain the status quo. Being honest is hard. Especially if you are lazy and no one ever challenges you or questions your integrity.


Self-reliance builds confidence. You feel good about what you have done. Other people feel that they can trust you and rely upon you. They do not see you as being weak.
A person who has confidence, and is self-reliant is willing to give, to help others. A taker simply goes through the motions, inwardly hoping to be absolved of the responsibility.

The simple step of a courageous individual is not to take part in the lie. One word of truth outweighs the world.

 (Alexander Solzhenitsyn) 

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Page created 1 March 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023