I believe in interdependence.
In a nation whose collective culture rewards independence, I often find it difficult to thwart the notion that self-sufficiency is king. As an example, following the New Year, my daughter, Stellamary, brought home a note from her elementary principle that addressed the issue of parents walking their children into the classroom before school. In the note, the principle stressed that it is important to allow your child to enter the school by themselves. Doing otherwise, he suggested, might lead to “learned dependency”. He went on to add that his New Year’s resolution is to increase each student’s sense of independence. In a nut shell, the students were about to be asked to do more by themselves and for themselves. Walking alone into the classroom was just the start of the principle’s “Independent Child Plan”.
So that I might illustrate a point, let’s turn the principle’s plan on its head: Suppose that the principle’s New Year’s resolution was to increase each student’s sense of interdependence. Imagine if he resolved to emphasis the interconnectedness of the student body rather then the individual student’s autonomy. Imagine if rather then doing more for one’s self, students were asked to do more for each other. This upside down Interdependency Plan sits well with me. I want to share it with Stella, who I fear is being inundated at school with social values that I do not share.
I try to communicate to Stella that there is a vast set of interrelated social, environmental, and political systems that exist precisely because people are not acting alone. It is extremely rare, if not impossible to achieve true independence. Therefore it may be more effective to focus one’s energy on building healthy helping relationships, rather then trying to go it alone. After all, I can not think of a single aspect of my own life that does not require the input of another human being: I did not build my own home; I do not grow my own food; I did not make the paper that these words are printed on.
I should mention that Stella is five. Deep intellectual conversations about “vast systems of interconnectedness” are really not developmentally appropriate. However, conversations about where our home, food, and paper come from may be. Clearly, I’ve had to age-tailor my communications and actions regarding links and connections that support healthy interdependence. Case in point: Stella and Agnes, my three year old, share a bedroom. It’s not by necessity; it’s by design. We have enough bedrooms for them each to have their own, but we all agree- my children included, that sleeping together is better then sleeping alone. In fact one night a week, we all crawl into bed together, snuggle up to one another, and sleep. It strengthens are interconnectedness; it brings awareness to our interdependence; and when we wake, we do so not individually, but as a family. And I think Stella gets it- together is better then alone; I hope she will grow to believe me. I hope I’ll always be part of her system of interdependence.