Personal Independence: Rights and Responsibilities of Doing It “My Nowm Self”
by Cathleen Elise Rossiter
A few years ago, when I was three years old, my mother and I found ourselves in the middle of a valuable teaching and learning moment that would stay with me to this very moment. This teaching and learning moment is the butt of many a running joke in my family, for good reason. Not only does it illustrate my self-reliant nature and personality, it also makes for great comical imagery.
One day, in my early days of being fully ambulatory, my mother and I encountered a street that necessitated our crossing. Mumma extended her hand for me to take for safety, as had been standard procedure. This particular day in my thus far brief life was the day that I consciously discovered my self-reliance and confidence in my abilities to handle the situation, for it was this particular moment in which I chose not to hold my mother’s hand to cross the street.
“Cathleen” Mumma coaxed, “you have to hold my hand to cross the street.”
Grasping my own hand, I responded in earnest, “I’ll do it my nowm self” and proceeded across the pavement, carefully placing each awkward step between the crosswalk’s milky lines, Mumma right beside me.
As a nation, America in the 18th century is the equivalent of my three-year-old self declaring my autonomy. With independence comes responsibility. As a three-year-old claiming independence, I was responsible for knowing and following the rules of the situation I asserted I could handle. As a parent, Mumma was responsible for guiding and protecting me in my journey to adulthood. The more mature we become the more responsibility we take on, the more independent we become.
Oftentimes we confuse demanding our rights with independence, as a child throwing a tantrum or sulking because he or she did not get his or her way. My trusty Oxford Dictionary states that independence means “not dependant on”, thus implying maturity. To mature means, “fully grown” or “to ripen”. To ripen means, “to be ready”. How often have we demanded our independence only to discover that we were not ready to handle the situation? In retrospect, the situation we were not ready to handle came with certain responsibilities that we were not willing to accept or rise to. Acceptance creates the readiness to act. My experience has taught me that the more I accept the responsibilities, duties, obligations of whatever situation I find myself involved, then proceed to fulfill my responsibilities, the more independence I enjoy.
This Independence Day weekend has made me more mindful of the responsibilities others have accepted, sacrifices others have made, and lessons hard-won that form the foundation for the independence I enjoy today. Thank you, Mumma, for your patience as I fumbled my way to maturity. Thank you to all those who have made sacrifices in your lives or with your lives in order that I might be free.
Happy Independence Day, America.