by Gary Hibbs
As we celebrate Independence Day this month, it makes me think about what the word “independent” means today. Our nation was borne out of a longing to have control over our choices in life as both individuals and as a nation … freedom … independence!
But, as I’ve really thought about what it means to be independent, it makes me wonder. Are any of us really “independent”? Aren’t we really “interdependent?”
Ghandi said, “Interdependence is and ought to be as much the ideal of man as self-sufficiency. Man is a social being.” Developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst Erik Erikson would even go further, saying that, “Life doesn’t make any sense without interdependence. We need each other, and the sooner we learn that, the better for us all.”
Yes, our nation certainly was borne with a strong sense of individualism, a strong sense of standing on our own … independence. Most Americans would agree that free will, free markets, the ability to makes choices and build self-esteem are all good things.
Yet, there is a “dark side” to unbridled individualism. American biolinguist, and former University of Maryland Professor Dr. John L. Locke wrote almost 20 years ago in The De-Voicing of Society: Why We Don’t Talk to Each Other Anymore that there is a contemporary social dysfunction that magnified after WWII that he labeled as “atomization.” That is, people drifting away from each other through a great emphasis on individualism. In fact, he noted that Alexis de Tocqueville observed in the 18th century that prior societies didn’t even have a word for individualism; there was no individual who did not belong to a group who could be considered as absolutely alone. We have become, in the words of Locke, solo sapiens.
Not good! I hope we take in the observations of Ghandi, Erikson and Locke as we celebrate “Independence Day” and realize that we need each other. In fact, our use of the label “Independent Living” here at Riderwood is a bit of a misnomer. More accurately, at our highest level of creating community and living and working as individuals here and anywhere , we must be “interdependent.” Happy Interdependence Day, everyone!