4th of July, 2011
“Happy Interdependence Day!” The past few days I’ve been offering this blessing as a goodbye when parting from friends, and at the conclusion of ordinary, brief interactions. You know, like instead of saying, “Have a nice day” as I leave the grocery clerk’s line, I’ve been saying, “Happy Interdependence Day!” Some people actually register the fact that I’ve said something slightly different than what’s expected. Of those who notice, some look momentarily puzzled, and some smile as though we’ve shared a private joke. (Anything that breaks up the monotony is probably fine with most retail clerks. That constant processing of objects and people is a really advanced mindfulness challenge!)
On this day of celebrating our nation’s independence, I’ve been considering “independence” and “interdependence,” and thinking about them as locations on a continuum of possible world views, intentions, even raw survival capability. Independence vs. interdependence. Is there a real distinction here? If so, how can it help us have a happy, balanced life, develop and maintain a less reactive outlook, interact in productive ways with our friends, loved ones, and associates?
Maybe we can think about the independence/interdependence continuum as a line between the poles of utter dependence/merging (such as newborn infants experience) on one end, and complete alienation (being cut off physically and emotionally from everyone and everything) on the other end. On such a continuum, when circumstances permit, I think it’s good to locate oneself somewhere in the middle. Modern psychology says we emphasize independence in early periods of self-development (childhood and adolescence), and then we gradually shift to recognizing and cooperating with the fact of interdependence as we mature (raising a family and/or working for the greater good of the community). It seems to me that to continue to emphasize separateness long after a healthy ego identity and boundaries have been established is to remain in a state of arrested development. And this seems to be true for both individuals and countries.
So how can the distinction between independence and interdependence help us to be happy, healthy, contributing members of society? Maybe every now and then we just stop for a moment and notice where we currently seem to be located on the continuum, and – if necessary – nudge ourselves gently toward the center. Away from total merging with or over-dependence on others (or their resources or approval), away from complete separation and alienation from others (neither offering nor accepting any form of support). Back toward the center — toward a healthy recognition of the fact of complete, mutual interdependence of all life, back toward considering the consequences of this reality, back toward the intention to try to guide our own lives with interdependence in mind.
As my gift to you on Interdependence Day, here’s a link to an interview with Norman Fischer. It’s not particularly associated with today’s theme, but it just crossed my radar and I thought I’d share it. (Whatever Norman has to say on any subject is always interesting and worth considering.)
Happy Interdependence Day!