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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Dependency: crutch or necessity?

I’ve been thinking a lot about dependency lately, in all forms.

When that word is mentioned, often the first thing that comes to mind is a dependency on chemical substances, and all those negative connotations.

As a generation we seem to be striving for independence: a state of being free of dependencies. I’m beginning to question the wisdom of that.

I make no secret of my opinion regarding dependence on chemical substances. I think it’s generally a bad idea and frankly a sign of weakness of character to allow yourself to fall into a situation where you become addicted to a chemical, especially a harmful one.

I know I sound somewhat hypocritical, given my addiction to caffeine. Although I don’t deny my weakness, I do point out that caffeine is one of the less harmful dependence-forming substances around… in moderate quantities (less than 700mg per day – about three cups of coffee) it’s even been shown to have long-term beneficial effects. If I believed I was harming myself I would discontinue it immediately.

But when it comes to other things like tobacco, alcohol and the vast array of illegal drugs, a dependence is a tremendous liability, and can have many negative effects, not only on your health, but also your lifestyle. These things are government regulated or illegal for a reason… think about it.

The exception here would be prescription medication. I’m an asthmatic, and as such I have been in several situations where my medication was the only thing standing between me and certain death. Although that doesn’t happen often, I am definitely dependant on that medication for my very survival.

Plenty of other folks have medical conditions that require them to receive prescription medication (or other medical equipment like glasses or walking sticks) in order for them to lead normal lives. This dependence is far from bad… on the contrary I think it’s a testament to modern science that we are able to provide people with these things, thus allowing people that would otherwise be cripples to become functioning members of society.

The other major kind of dependence is that on people.

Financial dependence is distasteful and undesirable. Who wants to be in a situation where they have to rely on another person to meet their financial needs? I know, there are some people who are too lazy to work for a living so they’re happy to try and find a rich husband to buy their bon-bons, but for the rest of us, it sucks.

But financial dependence isn’t the only form that can exist between two people. There is also emotional dependence.

Humans are social animals, and as such we thrive as much on the company of others as we do food and water. We’re genetically programmed for it, because our ancestors were able to survive as a result of their huddling together in troupes, being able to outwit and outnumber any predators, rival troupes and later on, their prey.

This programming has caused us to have an instinctual need to have people around us. We’re driven to seek out company.

This results in us feeling a strong attachment to our troupe… our group of close friends, and particularly our mate and offspring. We have developed complex social structures around these relationships that serve to strengthen those bonds in order to weave us together even more tightly.

As much as we like to think we don’t need anybody, we’re only kidding ourselves. We need people. We really do. We’re dependent on other people to provide us with a sense of wellbeing and belonging… things that are essential parts of our lives, whether we like it or not.

So let’s tally up the score:
Dependence on harmful drugs: Bad
Dependence on correctly prescribed medication: Good
Financial dependence on people: Bad
Emotional dependence on people: Good

Independence isn’t all it’s cracked up to be… just be careful of the bad ones.