Embracing Interdependence

“The myth of independence,” he said. The myth of independence.

I’ve been turning that phrase over and over in my mind, inside-out and upside-down for a couple of weeks now, thinking about what it means for modern America and the world.

I was sitting in the second row listening to Dr. B. J. Miller talk about the nature of living well and dying well, what it means to be human, art and beauty, choices and challenges.people

But that one phrase – the myth of independence – stood out for me and became the catalyst for this week’s post.

Traditionally, American culture has promoted and applauded independence. We celebrate it with parties, parades, and colorful explosions. We begin to teach our children how to become independent from a very early age. We push them out of the nest at age 18 and become concerned if they come back.

We speak of dependency as if it were a bad thing, a failure of sorts. If we allow others to become dependent on us, or we are dependent on them, it is typically viewed as negative.

Maybe it’s time to rethink independence. Maybe our notions of independence no longer serve us. Is independence a myth? I think it is.

Maybe our goal should be a healthy, functional interdependence.

What’s in a Word?

Okay! I admit that I am more-than-a-little obsessed with words. Since we have such an elaborately developed language, I suggest that we learn to use it well. Being specific with our words helps us to better communicate our intentions. Words matter.

The dictionary defines independence as: not depending on another for livelihood or subsistence.

There aren’t many people in the world today who truly intend to or even want to be totally independent. We don’t have to look far to realize that we are not independent. And that’s a good thing.

With that in mind, I propose that we stop emphasizing independence, letting that word fade into the background of our vocabulary, and start embracing and specifically recognizing our interdependence. Let’s allow interdependence to come to the forefront.

Some Advantages Of Interdependence

  • Safety: If my house catches fire, I don’t have to put it out myself. I depend on firefighters. And, they depend on me. I support their livelihood by paying my taxes, attending their fundraisers, and electing officials that ensure funding. There are many similar examples of systems that we have created to keep us safe: hospitals, police departments, policies and laws, to name a few. Interdependence.
  • Communication & Knowledge: You are reading this on a device that requires energy – electricity, cell phone towers, satellites, and people to create and maintain these services. And you can read this because there is a system of education in place that taught you to make sense out of symbols on a page. Again, interdependence.
  • Health: We are dependent on each other to survive, thrive, and grow into our full potential. We are biologically wired for interdependence. When we have positive, supportive interactions with others, the brain releases oxytocin (sometimes called the love hormone). Oxytocin creates bonds among humans, and emerging research suggests that it is a key player in healthy immune systems and disease prevention. We are tribal creatures, not meant to be independent.
  • Quality: Quality of life. Quality of relationships. Collaborative and productive workplaces. When we work in teams, share the load, leverage our special talents and the talents of others, everyone’s life becomes easier and more enjoyable. No one has to carry the burden of doing it all. We enjoy a higher quality of life and also have more time for relaxation and play.
  • Survival:hands across the world We are all connected. What we dump into our streams, our oceans, our air has repercussions throughout the world. Where it once seemed to make sense to think of national independence, we now understand that taking care of only our own interests will eventually contribute to our global demise. It is an interdependent world.

In his book Shift Happens, Robert Holden has this to say about independence:

From a distance, the independent person cuts a striking pose. To be independent looks like power, freedom, and true strength. But it isn’t. Independence is not strength, it is a wound. Independence is inspired not by love, but fear, and not by wholeness, but aloneness. It is a form of arrogance. Independence is unnecessary, and it does not work.

Call to Action:

Think about all the people and systems that you depend on. Who depends on you? Instead of taking your interdependency for granted, show gratitude.

Let people know that you need them. Spend more time with those people who appreciate you; recognize the happiness they provide and the positive impacts on your health and well-being.

We are all better off when we take care of each other. We are meant to care for each other. I love this quote from former first lady Rosalynn Carter.

There are only four kinds of people in the world – those who have caregivers, those who are caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.

Think about it. Independence is a myth. Interdependence is the reality.

3 thoughts on “Embracing Interdependence

  1. Hey Shirley! I love this post. It is so true, for many of us have learned that to be strong means depending on no one but yourself. But I have learned that is not the case. It just leads to being lonely and feeling as if you are the only one going through difficulties and it causes a separateness. One thing I have learned also, is that genetically based on my mother’s ancestry, it was a survival mechanism when the tribes were being broken apart, and the people you formed bonds with were sold off. And as mother to mother passed down, and child witnessed this in the environment, a new layer of how to process that became unconscious reality. As such, anyone with that past, has carried forward this sad dynamic out of necessity based on environment. Step one is coming into awareness that the cycle can be broken, and its articles like this, that helps make that happen. Keep doing what you are doing.


    1. Nadia, Thank you for your comments. You bring up an excellent point about genetics. Epigenetic research is revealing that the experiences of our ancestors are actually carried in our genetic code. So our tendency toward independence is deeply influenced by our unconscious brain, which is primarily concerned with survival. I agree that awareness is the first step in breaking the cycle.


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