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Dependence, Independence, and Interdependence
With all the problems we have been having in our nation this past year, I have had a lot of attention on what “laws of Life” I can offer that would improve our social relations. I am working on this subject, and today I want to give you a first piece.
It has to do with dependency.
Dependence has to do with whether or not something is determined by itself or by another. There are actually three levels of dependence.
DEPENDENCE is about relying on another for support.
INDEPENDENCE is having your own ability to rely on oneself for support.
INTERDEPENDENCE is having your own ability to cooperate with others so everyone is supported.
As we progress through our lives, there is a natural evolution through these three levels:
- as babies and children, we are dependent on our parents to teach us, make good decisions for us, and provide for our physical needs and mental, emotional, and spiritual growth.
- in our teenage years, we learn to become more and more independent until we are able to leave home and take responsibility for establishing our own lives, on our own terms, expressing our own individuality.
- Once we establish ourselves, we then become interdependent as we learn to act cooperatively with others to achieve bigger goals, such as having a family, working in a business, being a citizen, and other activities that require the efforts of more than one person to achieve.
These classifications of dependence also apply to social orders. The citizens of a country, for example, could be neatly divided into these three categories:
- those who are dependent on others for their life and livelihood and need the help of social programs.
- those who are independent, self-supporting, and contribute to society through paying taxes, volunteer work, and social betterment businesses and organizations.
- those who are interdependent can work with other independents to create projects greater than what they could do alone.
The ideal would be for everyone to evolve to interdependence as our main mode of social relations.
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My observation is that right now, most people in the world are dependent, even as adults.
Our modern industrial society is set up for the general population to be dependent on industrial manufacturing and government. We go along with allowing multinational corporations to create and determine the quality of our lives and our effect on the environment because we give them the power to do that when we don’t learn to do things for ourselves.
Cooking used to be a common skill for women, for example. I’ve been surprised as I meet and talk with women to find that many don’t know how to cook and instead rely on packaged foods and take-out (note the growth of the new meal-kit delivery services). Neither do women know how to sew. When I was going to "intermediate" school (7th and 8th grade) in California in 1972-73, we had Home Economics classes where we learned how to cook and sew in classrooms equipped with stoves and sewing machines. But these classes are no longer considered essential to life. The Gross National Product wants us to buy everything.
Below these three levels of natural dependence, there is also co-dependent, which is a behavioral condition that occurs in a relationship where one person enables another person's addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement. This includes excessive reliance on other people for approval and a sense of identity.
Is our consumer culture a mass co-dependency? Since the entire culture is oriented to being dependent on industrial production, which is enabled by advertising, the mass media, and personal relationships. When I was younger, my entire relationship with my mother, and later with my friends revolved around going shopping together and eating out together or going to movies together—all industrial entertainments. Even relationships between men and women in this culture are more about what clothes each is wearing, what car they drive and what their home looks like and the economic prospects of the relationship, rather than the satisfaction of the personal connection and mutual support between them. In our culture, it is typical to enable each other in these behaviors. But we are enabled to do these behaviors by the general culture? I think yes.
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The dictionary definition of interdependent is “mutual dependence.” This sounds to me like everyone is dependent on each other so nobody is standing on their own two feet being independent. And that’s pretty much what we have.
My definition of interdependence is just the opposite. It is everyone being independent so all involved are responsible for the whole and have skills and ideas to bring to the activity. This is the model of Life. Each and every living thing in the whole of life makes a contribution to life. Birds and bees and flowers and trees all give to Life as well as receive. Except for humans. Industrialized humans take and take and take and give back garbage in return. It doesn’t have to be this way. There is another way to live.
* * * * *
As I was thinking about this, this morning, I thought of the Native Americans who originally populated this country. They understood the land and lived in ways that sustained life for themselves and all the species that lived in the ecosystem and helped sustain their lives. They ate what was available each season. They used all the parts of the animals they took for food, clothing and other household goods, all of which they made themselves. They kept their population to the number of people their ecosystems could support. They needed to be highly interdependent because no one person could survive on their own without the work of others in the tribe.
Likewise, when people came from other countries and settled in America, they created communities together, agreed on laws, hunted and gathered good, and built houses out of trees they felled themselves. I was just lying in bed smiling at the though of Daniel Boone going to Home Depot to buy lumber to build a house. No. For most of our time on Earth, humans had to be independent and able, with many skills they could use as they interacted directly with their ecosystems to survive.
Today industrial manufacturing takes the resources and turns them into consumer products, on which we are dependent. We don’t know much about what the resources are, where they came from, or how they were manufactured. We have lost that direct connection to Life that was present for millennia, prior to industrialization.
Industrialization keeps us dependent. And that dependency leads us to want dependency in other areas of life. And then we have dictators who are only too happy to take control of everything.
* * * * *
Larry and I have evolved our relationship into having a lovely interdependent co-operation.. Our agreement is for each of us to be independent and self-determined in our responsibility for ourselves, and yet we have also learned how we can both have a better life cooperatively together than each of us could have alone. Since we are both retired and our time is our own, every morning we ask each other what we need to have happen that day, and then we plan accordingly for time together for joint activities and time apart for personal activities. This way we each get the time and attention we need from each other.
We can see that this could also apply on a social level. As more and more people learn the skills of cooperation, our interdependence could make a strong country that is prosperous for all. And if everyone in the world would learn the skills of cooperation, we could have a strong and prosperous world with no war, where everyone’s needs are fulfilled.
And while we do move up from dependence to independence to interdependence, in reality, as individuals we tend to move between all three. Even as we move up to independence, there are still areas of our life where we are still dependent until we root them out and move them up to independence. Likewise, as we move from independence to interdependence, it too is a step-by-step process of moving up one experience at a time. And even then, if we become ill or injured, we temporarily might move back down to dependence as we need the care of others at that time.
As I am writing this, I’m seeing that what is needed is to be aware of all three dependencies and be able to choose them at will, rather than having them just occur without our knowledge or consent or control.
I would suggest taking a look at yourself and see which dependence you are in at the moment, and how you might move up to the next level. Also specifically take a look at which areas of your life you experience being dependent, and see how you can move up to independence.
To get to interdependence, we first need to move from dependence to independence. And then as independents, we can interact with other independents to be interdependent.
In Life, we humans are naturally dependent on the ecosystems in which we live and the overall structure of the physical world of earth, air, fire, water, elements and the design that holds all life together. We could not live without this. But our dependence on the basics of life have been forgotten, replaced by a dependence on the industrial consumer complex.
As we make a shift to being a part of Life, what naturally emerges is interdependent participation in the co-creation of all Life. This is the direction we are moving with Lifely.
A very helpful book for interdependence that I read many years ago is the international bestseller Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. It shows you how you can create win-win outcomes instead of one side having to lose to the other. Thirtieth anniversary edition.