June 6, 2017

The Myth of Independence

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
Thanks to technology, humans are more "connected" than ever as we can talk in real time with someone on the other side of the globe. And yet at the same time, we are more disconnected than ever.

Our dependence has shifted from tribes and families to government and markets. As author Yuval Noah Harari points out, we "are defined above all by what [we] consume." We have bought into the myth that everything we need can be purchased: health, faith, safety, sustenance, happiness, everything

The importance of being an independent individual has become the god and priority of our culture and it impacts everything we do. We spend twelve plus years in schools teaching us everything we need to know to take care of ourselves and provide for ourselves. Parents teach responsibility and, to a certain extent, long for the day when the kids are out of the house. The digital market tells us we don't even have to interact with other people because Amazon Prime will have it to us in two-days. Even the way we practice our religion is often built around going to a meeting, service or study to consume rather than participating in the communal Church.

It's no wonder we have a hard time with community and relationships...

Think about all the things we're not supposed to talk about in our culture: politics, religion, money, the shadow self (i.e. our dark sides), "bad" emotions, etc. We don't talk about them because they, we have deemed, are all "individual" or "personal" issues. So we often choose to not go there, and honestly, more often than not, we spend time finding and building communities that contain others who think and feel mostly the same way we do. And as soon as someone deviates, one of two things usually happens:
  1. We separate from that person by either pushing them out of the community or we leave the community to find another that will simply support and hold up what we have determined to be true.
  2. We confront the person and place the emphasis on "converting" the other to adopt the view that we have deemed to be "right". We create an "us versus them" mentality, where we dig in our heels and do everything we can to "win".
No one wins when we live like that. We end up with hundreds (if not thousands) of "friends" on social media but find ourselves wrestling with loneliness because we don't feel known. We buy and consume more, because if we just have X, maybe the feeling will go away. At some point, we need to understand that money can't buy deep and meaningful relationships. Simply put, the pursuit of independence always lands in the same place where the Divine declares "it's not good for the Man to be alone."

In reality, independence is nothing more than a myth that we tell ourselves. As independent as you may feel you are, someone paved the roads you drove on today. Someone designed the car you drove, someone else put it together and someone else sold it to you. Another person handled the loan at the bank so you could buy the car and someone else processes your payment each month to keep track of the debt and what you owe. Someone grew or raised the food you bought. Someone else drove and delivered the food to the store you shop at. Someone else unloaded the truck and others stocked the shelves. Someone else checked you out (or fixed the self-service register because the scale got messed up). Do I need to keep going?

Real community is not developed simply by doing things together or seeing the same group of people regularly. It's developed by being vulnerable, open, and honest. It's being ourselves and talking about all the deeper things that shape our views, values, opinions, and beliefs and loving others as they do the same. And it's not found in our similarities, but in our differences and our decision to love and appreciate those differences instead of condemning them. 

As you go about your day, remember that you need other people, and more specifically, people who are different than you are. Take a moment and think about all the things you did (or will do) today, and then do what I did in the paragraph above. Think about the numerous people who were involved that make your "independence" possible. Embrace the fact that we are dependent on others to survive and that the Divine says that is "very good".