We need only look as near as our own bodies to come to an important realization- the limits of independence and the delusion of a completely self-contained, self-directed march through life.
American culture is deeply rooted in the idea of rugged individualism; the pick yourself up by your bootstraps mentality that assumes we do this thing called life by ourselves without the help, support or assistance of anyone.
Given that we rely on “something” other than ourselves for our very existence and the basic functions that allow us to lace up those boots, the individualism that defines our culture is called into question.
We do very little, if anything, absent the influence of external forces. All of life is relationship and we cannot not be in relationship. Whether in relationship to other people, to material objects or nature itself, our “self” is dependent upon and defined by repeated interactions with an “other”.
That first “other” is our primary caretaker who feeds, changes, clothes and comforts us in the initial years of life. As life unfolds we encounter other “others”. Repeated self/other interactions establish a unique signature that forms our self “I”mage- how we come to define ourselves and how we act, interact, relate and respond in all the ways life demands. The external world influences us and we influence the external world which in turn influences us. Throughout the course of life this feedback loop shapes and molds the self as well as self perception.
All aspects of self from genetics to response patterns is dependent upon something beyond the self, yet, undeniably an “I” stands at one end of the self/other dynamic. This “I” or self must intention and act for anything to occur in one’s life.
I must be self-directed, accountable and most importantly assume responsibility for the direction of my life. I make the choices that determine the course and quality of my life and I have to lace up my boots to co-create the outcomes I desire. I can get all the help, support and encouragement in the world to make a choice but ultimately it is one that only I, within the confines of self where no other exists, can make. It is within the same interiority of self where I feel and experience the joys or pains of the choices I make. In the solitary aloneness of my being exists, perhaps, the only independence I can experience.
Life is filled with paradox and the polarities. At one pole of life is there is dependence, at the other, independence. The middle path of interdependence honors and embraces both and constitutes what I believe is a fundamental reality of the human condition.