Dependence: Problem or not? 

Consider the many ways you are dependent on others, on the Earth, and on the invisible structures of society to get by in life.  Consider whether our culture’s constant harping on independence is realistic or healthy.  Today, let’s explore the positive sides of being dependent.  It may turn out to be the more realistic way of seeing things, too!

Realizing that we’re dependent on thousands of other people doing their jobs and even going beyond expectations to serve can at first seem like a scary prospect, but with time, it can feel more life-giving.  To realize that we are also contributing to the survival and well-being of people we don’t even know can be empowering as well.  Things I do make a difference, and I rely on other people doing what makes a difference for me.

Reflecting on the ways that we are vulnerable to not having our needs met frees us, paradoxically, to be more generous to others.  Bringing someone an extra casserole when a family member is in the hospital doesn’t compromise anyone’s independence, or open them to criticism, rather, it welcomes the interdependence that makes our lives richer and more secure.  Of course we need the whole community to support our lives.  Of course the community needs my contribution to be the best it can be.  We are made to be part of networks, webs, neighborhoods.

It was brought home to all of us, I think, during the recent pandemic.  Knowing that we couldn’t even eat without thousands of low-paid grocery, warehouse, restaurant and delivery workers showing up, even when they risked severe illness, should have been a humbling and also uplifting lesson for all of us.  Nobody is inessential.

There are people in our communities who are judged for being “too dependent” while others are lauded for their independence.  However, a closer analysis may show that there is not much real difference between the two.  The people whose “independence” we see may be relying on a wider range of sources to get their needs met, while those who appear more dependent may not have as many choices (or may be unnecessarily limiting their own choices) for getting their needs met.  Look before you judge!

Taking time to reflect on interdependence can help us grow in many ways:  less stress about being strong and able; more appreciation and gratitude for the many ways we are enabled by others; less openness to negative criticism from ourselves or others about our own lack of independence; more acceptance of the way the world really is and more ability to see clearly how our own and others’ needs get met.  Take a few moments today to become aware of who and what you depend on, and how you fit into a you-shaped hole in the community around you.