Thursday, June 30, 2011


Heading into the Independence Day holiday, it's worth reflecting on freedom's fuller intentions

MAKING THE CASE FOR LIBERTY. I love the Independence Day holiday. Anticipating it, I recently read "Common Sense" by Thomas Paine. What a succinct, pointed, powerful statement of the case against monarchy and England's treatment of the American colonies! He lays out the arguments for independence and democracy so well, it is no wonder Paine's tract convinced colonists who had been riding the fence up to that point in time. It's a strong case for the power of the printed word.

DEPENDENCY. Payne got me to thinking about the distinctions between dependency, independence, and interdependence. Most of us don't think of dependency as necessary, but, to a certain extent, it is. Children are dependent and the purpose of this necessarily extended dependency (longer than any other species) is to move them beyond it in a healthy way. But dependency, carried beyond necessity, can breed unhealth. We describe unhealthy relationships or family systems as codependent. I recall the bicycle accident I had four years ago that left me with 17 bone fractures and in a relatively immobile and dependent condition (this photo was snapped at a July 4th Indians baseball game while I still wore my "turtle shell" torso brace).  Immediately after the accident, I was temporarily dependent on a prescription narcotic to help me cope with pain. I was less dependent  a week later. I was independent of that once-necessary aid as quickly as possible.

INDEPENDENCE ISN'T THE GOAL. My goal is not simply to be independent or self-sufficient. Often portrayed as the ultimate goal of freedom, democracy and a capitalist economy, independence is a means to an end, not the end itself. That is the myth of rugged individualism. Those who proclaim they are "self-made" people tend to be short-sighted and arrogant. The most vociferously independent person you know is vastly beholden, whether he or she is able to see or admit it or not. Beware those who claim self-made status and independence; such people may also act as economic and social predators. They tend to live privately and "independently" at everyone else's expense.

RECOVERING INTERDEPENDENCE. We were not created to be independent. We were created to be interdependent. We are at our best when we use our capacities freely to help one another. Freedom's purpose is to enrich the community. I move from dependency to independence to contribute to the common good, to serve others in their move out of mere dependency.  Interdependence is the path toward the shining city. This is a critical and ongoing issue in our society, one that Robert Bellah has so eloquently documented and described in Habits of the Heart and The Good Society.

FULL CIRCLE.  Trumpeting independence--however high the price that's been paid for it--without seeing its purpose in moving from dependency to mutual community interdependence doesn't ring true.  A patriotism that cries "freedom" but seeks to provide insulation or exclusion from other freedom-seeking people (near or far) rings hollow.  As we celebrate this Independence Day holiday, let's keep thinking beyond independence to actions and possibilities that move us toward a more meaningful and freedom-multiplying interdependence.

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