I’ve been thinking a lot about independence lately. As a synonym for “self-determination,” independence seems like a worthy aspiration for any individual or entity. Every child struggles to demonstrate self-sufficiency; even my toddler vehemently declares “I do it” when there is no chance he can carry the heavy grocery bag or fix a broken toy. We have all made poor decisions in the name of independence – getting our own place before we could afford it, suffering a miscarriage in silence to avoid burdening others, traveling somewhere unsafe on our own because we wanted to believe we were savvy enough to take care of ourselves. Even as adults we seem driven to demonstrate that “I can do it” at all costs rather than ask for help.
But as the Wikipedia definition makes clear: “Independence does not necessarily mean freedom.” Just look at our country. We may have declared independence from Great Britain 239 years ago, but many Americans still feel trapped by poverty, racism, violence, addiction, and circumstances that make them feel like vassals on their own land.
I have achieved the American dream – good education, secure job, loving husband, beautiful children, practical car, a nice house in a safe neighborhood (it even has a picket fence), and all the material trappings of a successful, comfortable life. By all accounts I have attained independence. And yet, I feel it is all a rouse. I may not rely as heavily on my friends to meet my social or emotional needs as when I was a teenager, but that’s because I have my husband and children to listen to and amuse me. I purchased my car and my home myself, but I call my dad constantly for advice on how to repair them. I am increasingly confident in my ability to care for my two children, but when something goes wrong I instantly turn to my mom. I can pay for the ceiling repair, birthday party, and new tricycle my family wants, but only thanks to the half-dozen credit cards that banks have been willing to give me.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I honestly have no desire to sever or even weaken the emotional, professional, social, spiritual, financial, and physical supports that I have come to depend upon. These buttresses enable me to stand tall, giving the illusion of independence. I believe that is all we can ever hope to achieve. True independence, complete self-determination, is impossible. We are an interconnected society of social beings; we need to interact and draw upon one another’s knowledge, skills, resources, and compassion to survive.
So in the wake of Independence Day, I am celebrating my dependence on the people and institutions that have given me as much freedom as one could ask for. Thank you!