If asked to describe myself, “independent” would be one of the first words to emerge. Were anyone who knows me well around, you may hear a feigned cough, disguising a subtle and obvious “stubbornly.” I consider myself kind and intelligent, yet I pride myself in my free-thinking and ability to take care of myself.
With all I know and all I’ve discovered, I’ve barely scratched the surface. I know this. Yet the mind often has a difficult time accepting this fact.
Though I pay to fuel up my car, the vehicle technically belongs to me parents; I may pay for my own groceries, but they’re stored in the refrigerator within my parents’ home; I regularly share my musings on this blog, but they’re little more than the regurgitation and synthesis of others’ ideas; although I enjoy solitude, I rely on my family and friends for companionship and support. In light of these things, can I really call myself independent?
No one is entirely self-sufficient, as much as some may like to believe that to be the case. There are individuals in our lives who provide us with material resources and necessary services, others share their love and concern, and another group may pass along new ideas and inspiration. Those who reject the help of others are depriving themselves of the opportunity for further growth and development. As desirable as independence is seen in modern society, perhaps it’s not quite so idealistic.
This post stemmed from a contemplation on dependence and independence – the transition from to the other, the interplay between the two, as well as the processes of discovering and maintaining a healthy balance halfway. However, as with much writing, new ideas arise through the process and carry the piece in an entirely new direction.
As babies, we are entirely dependent on our caregivers. Though young children begin asserting their independence through statements like “I’m a big boy” and “I can dress myself,” they still rely on their parents for care, education, transportation. As individuals hit puberty, the sense of omniscience and the need to asseverate their freedom mushrooms. Thinking critically about that particular step, I would venture to say that many people remain trapped in that mindset for most, if not all, of their adult lives; and this over-emphasis on the self can lead to narcissism and consumerism. However, examining the other end of the spectrum, neglecting the self in favor of others can lead to self-doubt and a decline in health. So, it seems the ideal would be to develop a scale on which dependence and independence are equally balanced. But perhaps that’s not entirely the case; maybe there is some unconsidered third variable coming into play, confounding our current thoughts on the topic.
About three years ago, I conducted a science experiment for a university biology class. For my project, I collected data and formulated analyses on the symbiotic relationship between ants and cacti in the Sonoran Desert. The ants were simply doing what was necessary to survive, as were the cacti; yet, in the process, the species inadvertently helped one another. Essentially, ants collect a special nectar which is secreted from the glands of the cacti, and in return, the ants deposit nutrients around the cactus (via food scraps, defecation, etc.) and defend the cactus from other insects. My research centered on the question,”Do ants and/or cacti benefit from interaction with one another?” The answer was and overwhelming yes, there does exists a mutually beneficial relationship between the two species.
Recalling this experiment makes me wonder, and ultimately realize that this basic concept can be extrapolated to countless other organisms. This symbiosis exists between clownfish and sea anemone, rhinoceri and oxpeckers, and perhaps even humans and their pet dogs. It is entirely possible that the idea of mutually beneficial relationships can expand beyond, or rather contract in on itself, in order to address interpersonal relations within the human species. Do the actions of one humans benefit another? Is that even a possible or admirable goal?
As I delve deeper into thoughts surrounding the concept of mutually beneficially relationships, I’m beginning to believe that, although both dependence and independence are important within certain contexts, the strive towards interdependence is likely the surest path towards fulfillment, in that one can reap the intrinsic rewards of helping someone else, as well as benefit from the returned support of others. In his ever-popular book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey describes it well.
“Dependent people need others to get what they want. Independent people can get what they want through their own effort. Interdependent people combine their own efforts with the efforts of others to achieve their greater success.”
I once shared that I believe that ideas are meant to be free, and that ideas are not lost when shared, but rather expanded on and perpetuated. Humans experience a drive to protect that which they feel belongs to them, from their locked car and hidden cash, to their forthcoming novel and yet unpatented idea. But what would happen were we to release that sense of ownership and entitlement? Though, on the individual level, one may not reap the full benefits of selfishly withholding, releasing thoughts and discoveries into the public domain without restraint or stipulation has the overwhelming potential to be further developed and benefit individuals, a society, or the entire human race on far more profound and affective levels.
We each play a difference role and have difference services to offer, but through awareness, authenticity, and the recognition of of social structure, it’s possible to achieve a level of interdependence that ameliorates both on the personal and universal level.