Wow have I spent a lot of time and energy becoming independent - the epitome of the “strong independent woman.” I don’t think I realized it at the time I was striving so valiantly toward this goal, but the truth is that I didn’t want to be told what to do by anyone. Subconsciously, I avoided having a husband or even a boyfriend because I thought I would lose my independence. I moved far away from my family in order to spread my wings without judgment (not that any of them have ever judged what I choose to do). I have even avoided having a best friend because I didn’t want to turn to only one person for advice.
It is only in retrospect that I can see this pattern in my life. Most of the time I was busy lamenting these very facts and seriously believing that something must be very wrong with me that I couldn’t manage to have a best friend, find a boyfriend and create a family of my own. It is only in recognizing that I think very differently from the mainstream, and coming to accept that as a strength rather than something to be ashamed of, that I can see clearly looking backward.
We have created a culture of independence in so many ways. Relying mostly on ourselves, or perhaps a close circle of friends and family to help with our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs. One in which owning a house, a car and lots of the latest gadgetry makes us feel successful. Our current political climate reveres those who can “take care of themselves,” and we look down upon those who can’t. Anyone who needs a hand up or some support, even temporarily, is viewed with shame in our land of opportunity.
That is why it was so difficult for me to need help when I was diagnosed with cancer as a single person. Asking for and even receiving support from my community felt shameful for quite a while. Receiving donations to pay for the alternative treatments I chose or even the pile of bills not covered by health insurance felt like weakness. I felt somehow incompetent that I couldn’t manage that on my own, and there were even others close to me who added to that feeling by their reactions and unintentional judgments.
The truth is that human beings weren’t designed to be independent. One of our greatest strengths is how we show up for each other in times of crisis. From terrorist attacks to natural disasters, we show up in droves with assistance and support for those affected no matter where they are in the world. We have an innate desire to help. It is one of the most beautiful things about us. So why then have we put independence on such a pedestal? Why have we moved so far away from community in past decades?
I was watching a TED Talk from Mark Boyle who is called the Moneyless Man in Great Britain. He has lived without money for three years now, and he shared some powerful thoughts about how our economic system is unsustainable, as I think we all know it is:
“Money has replaced community as a primary source of security. “
“Prostitution is to sex what money is to giving and receiving.”
Cancer helped me receive in a way I had never been comfortable with before on a personal level, and not just me. We see this when someone is injured or sick and communities raise money to help pay for medical bills or to support the family so they can be with their loved one during the crisis. This used to be the norm. Communities didn’t rely upon the government to support them during difficult times. They helped one another. On the global level it is the same. We may decry the amount of aid our government provides to other nations, but when a devastating natural disaster occurs, we have no trouble opening our own wallets to help. When a terrorist attack occurs on a large scale, we send love and support to those affected and stand with them in solidarity.
This kind of response is more fulfilling – LOVE – than a fear-based one in both cases. I could see people in my circle or even total strangers recoil from my bald head because it brought forth their own fears about getting sick. If it could happen to me at my age, it could happen to anyone, and it is difficult to be reminded of that. We could choose the same response to what happened on 9/11 or in Paris recently, and worry about whether we will be the next victim of an “active shooter.” (We’ve even coined a term to describe these phenomena.) Or we could recognize that our chances of being caught up in a terrorist attack are half as great as being struck by lightning, and choose instead to go about our lives without worry.
OR, we could respond in love, recognizing the helpers, witnessing the bringing together of communities, and noticing the affinity we feel with France at the moment (not something our politicos have supported in the past - remember freedom fries?). I surmised that cancer came into my life in order to help me ask for and receive support from my community. Could it be the same on a global level. Could we be experiencing these challenges in order to recognize that there is a better way? Can the torment we are feeling over the state of affairs in our world be the wake up call we need to make a major shift? I think so.
As we begin to open up to a more localized, supportive, cooperative community again, perhaps we won’t need these kinds of tragedies to bring us together because we are already doing it naturally. I love the concepts that are emerging to create another way to live our lives: sharing economies, gifting economies, micro credit, time banks, cooperatives, farmer’s markets, fair trade, and natural health options. You can see the shift happening from big powerful corporations to the localized, community level again. As we reconnect, so much more is possible. We become interdependent. And that is a very good thing. It is good to need and to help one another.
“Life doesn’t make any sense without interdependence.
We need each other, and the sooner we learn that, the better for us all.” - Erik Erikson