Independence or Community?

In America, we either brag about our independence or gripe because we feel we’re losing it. In reality, we don’t have it, never had it, and never will have it.

You might think I’m full of baloney, but I’m not. Just read the dictionary. When you’re independent, you’re free from the control of others. You don’t rely on other people for help and assistance. You are truly autonomous.

If we’re going to bandy about terminology, we need to understand the vocabulary we use.

We can’t live independently without the assistance, advice, and assent of others unless we march into the wilderness and set up home off the grid. Otherwise, we live in a community, which means we mutually depend upon each other for support and aid.

Regardless of where we live–off the grid or in the community–we all have the ability to choose a level of autonomy, a state of being where we strive to achieve independence to whatever degree we can while also living within the community.

Problem is, independence is costly in terms of time, effort, and humanity.

When we’re truly independent, we don’t adopt the opinions of others, we form our own. We listen to as many other perspectives as we can, weigh the variety of the input, and reach our own decisions. When we only seek out the voices of those who echo our own, we’re handicapping ourselves and leaving ourselves vulnerable to those who do not believe in independence.

This world contains people who exploit the fact that few of us will ever achieve true independence. They seek to control us to achieve what they view as their own independence. Clearly, they haven’t read the dictionary, either.

Throughout this pandemic, some of us have drawn closer to our community to work together to overcome the challenges to our health, financial survival, and emotional well-being. Others of us have chosen to withdraw from the community and strike out on our own, literally striking out in harmful ways. Harmful to ourselves, to others, to our community.

We all talk about our rights and how the government grants us our rights. Well, if we were truly independent, no one would give us anything. We’d obtain what we wanted for ourselves. Truth is, we were more independent thousands of years ago than we are today. The way people are behaving these days, our society will achieve total autonomy and, instead of advancing, regress. It’s already started that downside.

The very reason we formed society (aka community) was to improve the quality of our lives. The concept of community relies upon sharing, variety, and cooperation. Let me share an analogy.

A small, six-inch long critter found its way into my yard last week. He ventured from his own community into mine, without conducting any research. When my eighty-pound dog discovered the interloper, Angus thought he was friendly and wanted to play. As you can imagine, the critter was terrified. I chased Angus into the house and examined the little guy.

I thought the critter was a baby muskrat. (We live within 100 feet of a brook that connects two large ponds.) I snapped a photo of him and texted it to my brother, who immediately pointed out all the reasons why the little guy was a dark brown field mouse and not a muskrat. Or a rat. Or a beaver. Or any other type of rodent I thought he might be.

I investigated the interloper before making any type of decision about his future other than to save him from becoming my dog’s chew toy. I also walked the yard to see if he was the scout for a band of fellow interlopers. I didn’t rush to judgment. I didn’t run off in fear. I didn’t start screaming.

I conducted my research and relied on my brother, an outdoorsman and hunter, to provide me with information and knowledge I clearly lacked. And then I acted.

How would you have acted? Not if you were in my shoes and had just reviewed your brother’s information, but the moment you found your dog playing with the creature?

I suspect that the way any of us would have reacted in this situation is the same way we react when dealing with other people. Although we crave independence and control over our own lives, some of us do not hesitate to control others and take away their independence–oftentimes by jumping to conclusions and not conducting any research. Would you have let Angus continue playing with (aka tormenting) the mouse? Would you have chased Angus away and then killed the thing yourself? Would you have let him go? Would you have conducted any research in that moment? Or would you have done something else? Some of us realize there are always more options than we alone can see?

What did you do on Independence Day? Did you gripe about the lack of public fireworks’ displays and the inability to attend a large community barbecue? Or did you sit in your own back yard with a few people you love and celebrate your own personal independence … and/or community?