Several things, including the books I am reading (disclaimer for book club, some Asher Lev spoilers) have had me thinking about what it means to be independent. I have also been pondering the import and implications that independence brings. I looked up the word in the dictionary and found that there were a lot of definitions ranging from political independence to freedom from work entirely.
1. free from outside control; not depending on another's authority
2. capable of thinking or acting for oneself
3. not depending on something else for strength or effectiveness
4. not depending on another for livelihood or subsistence
5. not connected with another or with each other; separate
After thinking about it for a while, I came to several of my own conclusions.
First of all, I am very grateful that I live in a free country. The fact that our nation is "independent" is very important to me. I guess that "technically" it can be said that we are free from outside control. No other country rules us. We do not, as a country, depend on another country's authority.
One of the books I have been reading takes place during the Revolutionary War. It's about a patriot family pretending to be loyalists so that they can continue to live in their home in British occupied New York. However, they are forced to quarter a slew of soldiers, live their lives deceitfully, and work quietly for independence.
This independence, is the kind I think is entirely worth fighting for. Ironically, in order to gain independence as a group, a lot of people need to collaborate and work as a team. When I am teaching my students, independent work and group work are not at all the same thing. Group work usually comes first, so that the kids can learn from each other. Then, they are asked to do the task independently.
I suppose the same thing could be said for our country. To obtain independence during the war (at the beginning), people had to work together. As our country has grown and changed, individuals are seeking their own (separate) independence.
When looking at the state of, and problems within, our current government, it seems pretty clear that as a whole we have lost the ability to work collaboratively for independence. We have too many independent individuals (or groups) with their own agendas. This being said, I think that there is a fine line between being independent and being unwilling to compromise. We started out as a country of compromise. Maybe we no longer have to depend on another country's authority but we do need to depend on each other.
This leads me to the next couple of definitions. Capable of thinking or acting for oneself and not depending on something else for strength or effectiveness. In the political arena, these two definitions are semi-suicidal for the system as a whole. If we have leaders in Washington who are "independent" under these definitions, the country is in trouble. We don't want our elected officials acting alone, without the support of the people or other leaders. I don't think there are many people who can be effective without the help and support of others (politically). However, one of these definitions is great when applied to people leading their individual lives.
In the culture I grew up in, being able to think for oneself is a big deal. My whole religion is based on an individual knowledge of basic principles. If I hadn't been encouraged to think and act for myself, I wouldn't be very useful in my religion or any other aspect of me life. Definition number four, not depending on someone else for livelihood or subsistence, is also heavily encouraged. I don't think that there are to many parents out there that hope that their kids will fail to get jobs and live in their basements forever. In those two regards I think independence is great. Though, I still don't think people can become thinkers and providers without the help of other people. So, once again, in order to gain independence people need to depend on other people (work together).
Now, I want to go back to definition three, not depending on something for strength or effectiveness. I feel that this type of independence runs rampant through corporations, political circles, and average lives. I myself do not think this is necessarily a valuable type of independence. I depend on several things and people every day for effectiveness and strength. My family is always there to back me up and support me, my husband literally makes sure I have strength (feeds me three meals a day), my colleagues cooperation helps to make me an effective teacher, my friends help me to be better, and I count on my Heavenly Father's help in everything. If I wanted to, I could disregard these people and claim that everything I am and do is mine alone but it isn't. I could renounce these people and try to actually do everything on my own, but why would I. Without all the wonderful people in my life, my life wouldn't be worth living. Giving them up for the sake of true independence would be ridiculous.
The last definition, not connected with another or with each other; separate, is the saddest definition of all. I just finished reading "My name is Asher Lev" by Chaim Potok. It is a coming of age story about Jewish boy living in a Hasidic community in New York shortly after WW2. In his community there is a man referred to as the Rebbe. The Rebbe's word is law to the people in his community. He makes many major decisions in the lives of his people. As I read I found myself resenting this man. I kept thinking that his people needed to break away and live their lives more independently. Then I realized that I have someone in my life like that. I follow the prophet. I would do anything he asked of me because I believe he is God's prophet.
In this book, the faith of the community in both the Rebbe and their God, holds them together. They are independent as a people but not as individuals. Their lives are inextricably entwined and that is how they like to live. They believe the group is more important than the person.
This causes a lot of problems for Asher because he is so very different. He can't function happily in the community because the beliefs of the community cut out one of the most important things in his life. However, he can't leave the faith and community he knows, for a new one, without being unhappy. Towards the end of the book, more independence than he has ever had is forced upon him. It is almost a punishment.
The idea of independence doled out as a punishment contrasts quite a bit with the idea in my other book of independence cast in the role of the supreme reward. But, they are not the same type of independence. Political independence is worlds away from "not connected with another or with each other; separate".
Therefore, in my own personal opinion, having the word independent as a character trait is good, if it is being used to describe the abilities to think and provide for oneself. Living in an independent country is good, if it means that the country is ruled wisely. However, breaking away from cultures, people, and things can go either way. If it is being done to meet a predetermined idea of independence, it may be a mistake. If it is being done for a well thought out reason that leads to a better ending than the one a person or group is currently headed for, then it is probably good.
Looking at my own life, I would say in many ways I am independent. I put myself through college, I graduated, I have a career, Nick and I pay a mortgage; I would say we are responsible, adult-like people. However, we go to my parents home frequently. We go to church. We pray regularly. We depend on my family for love and support. We depend on the church to help keep us on the right track and doing worthwhile things with our time. We depend on our Heavenly Father to lead, guide, care for, and protect us. From those things/people I do not want to be independent.