Friday, July 4, 2008


I don't think of myself as a very patriotic person. In fact, I have sometimes described myself as a 'matriot', more loyal to mother earth than the fatherland. Nevertheless, it's July 4th, the American day of independence, and this, for me, brings up questions about the meaning of independence.

From a developmental perspective, I think of childhood as a time of dependency, adolescence as a period where the goal is independence, and adulthood as a time to strive for interdependence. In fact, I know some people who want to celebrate today as 'Interdependence Day'.

Independence is the great American myth. 'Rugged individualism', as the Republicans would say. 'I will do it myself, alone.' But the truth is that no one does it alone. There may be times, even in adult life, when we need to prove something and, as result, we need to act independent. And, unfortunately, we may need to return to dependence when we are sick or get old. Most of the time, however, we are part of a web of relationships: needing others and helping others. Interdependence means that we give and we take, we care for others and get taken care of in return. Interdependence means we do things together

Interdependence isn't always easy. It's often easier to say, 'I'll need to do it', or to say, 'do it for me', than to say 'we', 'us','let's do it together'. Often we don't know who the 'we' is. But none of us is really completely on our own.

This myth of independence and individualism, relates to social change as well. I've learned I can't change things by myself. Often we are waiting for a charismatic leader, a savior who will come and change things for us. As much as I admire leaders like Gandhi, or Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, they aren't the ones who made things happen. It wasn't Gandhi that liberated India, it was the thousands of Indians who marched, who struggled, who said no. The gains of the civil rights movement weren't made by Martin Luther King or Malcolm X, or Stokely Carmichael or Bayard Rustin or Rosa Parks. They were made by the thousands of marchers, the ones who wouldn't ride the bus and walked home, the ones who sat at coffee counters and faced down the police. I've pointed out in previous posts that top-down change doesn't work. No one can create change for us. If we are going to change things, we are going to have to do it together, building from the ground up. As the saying goes, "We are the ones we have been waiting for." (Apparently Alice Walker got this line from June Jordan, who may have gotten it from the Hopi.)

Years ago, I went camping out in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I spent three days by myself; hiking, cooking, and sleeping under the stars. I never felt lonely--even though I didn't see another human during that time. I never felt I was alone. Everything that I did, I realized that I learned from someone. I may have been far from other humans, but I brought many people with me: my friends, my family, those that taught me to survive on my own. I realized then that I'm never really on my own. I've carried that insight with me since.

Quote of the day: "In the progress of personality, first comes a declaration of independence, then a recognition of interdependence." - Henry van Dyke
Word (or phrase) of the day: Eco-communalism
Hero(es) of the day: The Diggers (both incarnations)

1 comment:

Eve L. Incarnata said...

Happy belated interdependence day!