“I do it myself,” is the oft-heard refrain from my friend’s toddler. She loves to be independent, but hand-in-hand with that comes responsibility. She’s having to learn that if she insists on buttoning her shirt herself, she’ll have to live with the discomfort if she gets it wrong. Either that, or she’ll have to humble herself and ask for some help.
My pastor recently pointed out that while dependency isn’t healthy in adult relationships, independence is just as bad. Strong, satisfying relationships are those which are based on interdependence.
Our culture doesn’t like that idea; we much prefer independence. “I did it my way”, as the old song goes.
The Catholic Church in the UK recently put out a document in which they “criticised a decline in the spirit of solidarity in a “selfish society” where money and property are valued more than the “social capital” of compassion and generosity that holds communities together.” (1)
Interestingly, they also identified the trend that this independence has led to a lack of personal responsibility and concern for others.
The latter I can understand, but the former seems counter-intuitive. Surely choosing to do things your own way implies a willingness to shoulder responsibility for the consequences?
But a quick look around at our society suggests not – people seeking fame and celebrity, then complaining when paparazzi follow them everywhere; criminals suing their victims for injuries sustained while carrying out their crimes; heavy smokers suing tobacco companies for failing to adequately warn them of the addiction of nicotine…
We want to live as if our actions don’t have repercussions, as if we are isolated, autonomous individuals, separate islands afloat in a wide sea. Yet as soon as something goes wrong, we want someone to blame.
Maturity is learning to take the consequences of our actions, and learning that we aren’t islands, but links in a chain. Everything we do affects someone else, and every time we run up against something we can’t do, there’ll be someone else around who can.
Interdependence is the way forward. It’s another word for community, and it’s both challenging and liberating. My friend’s toddler is learning it now – let’s see if we can figure it out before her!