Happy Interdependence Day

Reflecting on yesterday’s 4th of July festivities and the meaning of the holiday, it strikes me that we could just as easily conceive of a celebrating of Interdependence Day. After all, independence in whatever way you consider it does require dependence on some things.

Interdependence is a central tenant in Buddhist theory, and it’s quite simple: all that we know or experience in this world is actually comprised of many parts. Also part of this concept is that things arise as the product of certain causes and conditions and always affect something else. There is no independent essence to anything. This is also understood as the Buddhist teaching of emptiness, and it can sound scary. But when you take a few minutes to think about it, see how it makes sense.  

Think about your own life and how you came to be where (and who) you are right now. Did you spring up out of nowhere? No, you were conceived by some iteration of the joining of ovum and sperm. And then when you were born, you were pretty helpless. You needed someone to provide food and shelter so that your body could survive and grow. You learned to communicate in some way  from other people teaching you how to talk, sign, or express emotions non-verbally. To learn how to read and achieve a certain level of self-sufficiency in life, you attended schools that were built by people, staffed by teachers and administrators, stocked with pencils and books and other supplies that other people made, and maintained by electricians, janitors.  You get the idea.

And you can’t truly think of any act or action that does not have a result. Physics teaches us this, but even simple introspection and outward observation also prove this to be true. If the sun is out, things grow, and heat is emitted. If you say words, someone probably hears them or at least you do, and if not, then vibrations ripple out into space and affect other molecules somewhere. If you throw a gum wrapper out of your car window, it accumulates outside as litter until it decomposes or someone puts it somewhere else. And those two actions themselves have their own consequences. You get this idea too, hopefully.

Yet so much of what is going on in our current national discourse and mood seems to rub against a distorted understanding of American independence. Freedom. Americans only. America first. But we must stop and think—use our better judgment to see that this is a myth. No one got here (whether in the geographic or metaphysical sense) on their own, without help. 

What do we celebrate independence from? Oppression, or anything that would limit our freedom? Well that in turn comes from a set of rules and systems of defense that protect those freedoms and allow it to thrive for all. Freedom is not free. And it is not independent. Our freedom depends on the will of the people to keep it so, on laws and governments and systems to keep it meaningfully in place and available to all.

I think if we could remember at each turn that things only come about as a result of other things, that would go a long way toward dispelling these false notions of imbalance and superiority, of “us” and “them,” why “they” deserve less than “us," and that “they” are not “us.” Doesn't every single person (every being, in fact) share the same basic desire most of all: to avoid suffering?

We all come into this world the same. We all experience sickness, old age (if we’re lucky), and death. The rest of the differences are inconsequential, but they are all connected. All interdependent. My actions have effects on other people, so do my words. So it is with us all.

As we celebrate freedom and vow to uphold it, it is just as important to the well-being of humanity to remember how connected we are to each other, to other forms of life, to this planet. Everything we do has an effect on something else in some way. We are all supported by other things. We need each other. If we recalled and celebrated an Interdependence Day, I bet it would be a day of compassion.