INTERDEPENDENCE: mutually reliant on each other


Sometimes we get so engaged with a concept that we allow it to become overwhelming.  That is the case in America, I believe , with a limited and dangerous understanding of the word independence.   Throughout the history of this country we have waved the banner of independence, based upon our understanding of what it meant to find freedom from the restraints of an oppressive British government in the 18th century.   It is a proud word, recognizing the element that fired the hearts of citizens in this new, raw country to take up arms against an overwhelmingly more sophisticated nation…and then defeat them in a war of independence.

However, over the centuries that spirit of independence has become a variation on the original meaning, morphing into an ego-centric demand for narcissistic rights.   That is to say, we have embraced the term independence in a way that feeds my own personal needs…even at the expense of others who have similar or greater needs.  Had this been the meaning for independence in the 18th century it is hard to believe that the residents of America could have made a dent in the war against England.

What is missing in this fractured definition of independence is the similar, but more profound understanding of interdependence.  The word, itself, is constructed from existence of the word dependence, which means reliance upon.   For instance, a newborn human baby is dependent upon a parent for a significant period of time in order to survive.  Other animals may be less dependent, or dependent for a shorter period of time.   But, until humans are capable of walking, communicating, and making decisions, they are reliant upon those providing parenting skills to prepare them for dependence.  (Some parents believe this may exist into young adulthood!)  We humans are always fascinated, however, with such animals as eagles, who, when the parent decides he or she has had enough of feeding and nurturing the eaglets, pushes them out of the nest, and encourages them to go on their way.

Dependence is not necessarily a negative thing, unless it becomes draining and an excuse for laziness.   Taking the concept beyond that of child-rearing, dependence may be demonstrated in business, economics, sports, the arts, or…international relationships.   If a country is overly-dependent upon a mother country or a mentoring country for its survival, the relationship can become tarnished and call for abrupt and painful separation.  Excessive dependence by one country upon another for economic survival can result in enforced military or political allegiances which are equally destructive.

But…when the prefix inter is applied to the word dependent a new word…and a new meaning emerges.  It refers to a situation of mutual responsibility and support.  It is not one nation lording power and authority over another country as much as two countries pledging mutual support for each other.   One which is rich in natural resources (such as oil) may pledge its supply to another country which may be located in a strategic location for security, or shipping, or bridging to other countries.   It is out of interdependence that alliances such as NATO emerge.

In personal relationships interdependence signals a similar recognition of ability to assist each other by pledging resources, talents, affection, or even economics to provide a healthier or stronger relationship.   The media has carried stories over the past week of couples that purchase apartments or homes jointly and enter into agreements to share in the cost and maintenance, given the excessive and unreachable costs were the home secured for only one of the families.  Or, the simple act of two or more individuals joining in an interdependent agreement to purchase and operate a business.   Their individual talents and resources combine to make it work.

On an even more personal level, interdependence is the act of recognizing one’s ability to be of service to another person.  It is not required.   No law says that it must take place.  But the person recognizes that assistance to the needier person will result in the raising up of a responsible citizen who will be able to share in taxes, products, and services for the benefit of society.   It is a form of altruism which emerges from the recognition of one’s ability and desire to benefit society at their own expense.

We are at a point in our American society where the cry for independence and self-will seems to increasingly trump the desire for interdependence.   The concept of “Don’t tread on me” is overshadowing the call for “We shall overcome.”  


Photo Credit:  Christian

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