July 4, 2012 – Independence Day offers a prime opportunity to reflect on one of the great paradoxes of contemporary American culture: independence and interdependence are not, as is commonly assumed, mutually exclusive concepts.
We are not either self-reliant, autonomous agents or cooperative, interconnected beings. Clearly, we are both. Paradoxically, we are simultaneously individuals and members of a society. Our freedom to be independent is not only not hindered by our willingness to act in cooperative, altruistic, compassionate ways – rather, it is enhanced.
Life, liberty, and happiness are the products of true freedom. Most of us know from first-hand experience that sensations of happiness and contentment rarely stem from selfish acts; on the contrary, the most profound joy comes most often from acts of generosity and caring.
Indeed, as a society it would benefit us to become more independent and self-sufficient in many ways – the more food, energy, and financially independent we can become as individuals, the stronger we become as people, communities, and as a nation.
Here in the US the words freedom and independence are so often coupled with the romanticized American idea of the “rugged individual”. We are taught from an early age that we are separate from our neighbors and our environment, that to achieve success we must compete, and that the only success that matters is financial success.
Now is a good time to ask ourselves: have these principles led us to become healthy, happy people? Are we achieving the kind of wealth we have been striving for? Are we truly free in a society that has a different, far more lenient set of laws for the wealthy? Would we be freer and therefore more independent if we could choose paths that diverge from the limited ones advocated by the powers-that-be?
The beauty of our society is that we have the freedom to make choices that result in greater health and contentment for ourselves, our families, and our planet. Sadly, so few of us exercise these freedoms, in part because we have not been invited to embrace the paradox that to become the most profoundly free we must become profoundly interdependent.
~ text and graphic by Alyce Santoro