As a wee boy with a “disability” it was, it now seems, drummed into me rather ferociously that independence was something I should strive for. This wheelchair-using boy, the “experts”, at least, heavily implied, should learn to “stand on his own two feet”. And to one degree or another, this is something I have achieved—in that my life decisions, while guided by those I trust and love, have wholly been my own.
But … “independent”? … Have I truly achieved that? Have I succeeded in living an autonomous, wholly self-determining world? Well, no, of course I haven’t—and, more to the point, I wouldn’t want to.
You see, the rigour that is so often applied (by those “in the know”) to those living what might be considered “exceptional” lives, is so often not applied to those “lesser” mortals living in that day-to-day world of wake up, work, come home and sleep. And with good reason: it’s unworkable and, frankly, utterly absurd. The very suggestion that we as individuals should strive for this kind of independence (in the same sense that I encountered it as a child) defies logic in the kind of society that, at the same time, strives to promote family values.
Now, I know, that we can all exist within society, within “the family” as independent individuals. I completely get that. But this emphasis on independence is one that, increasingly, I consider to be inherently damaging.
I’m proud to be British! I’m proud to be English! I’m proud to be Scottish. I’m proud to be a stamp collector. I’m proud to be … well, you get the picture. Without wishing to move too far into the realm of political independence, nationalism et cetera, this is, nonetheless, the essence of where my admittedly simplistic (given the limits of a mere blog post) argument is heading. Increasingly, it seems to me that we are being pushed towards an isolationist view of the individual. The past couple of decades has seen the growth of the World Wide Web—an electronic form that allows us the kind of access to cultures that we, quite simply, have never had before. And, yet, the trend seems to be more towards exclusion rather than inclusion. The divisions we, yes, were already aware of, are exaggerated and, in some regards, expanded by those with agendas of their own—to the point where it’s far too easy to start thinking in the same terms (or, perhaps, to simply stop thinking).
Interdependence and the mutually beneficial are, as far as I can see, tried and tested approaches to living a successful life. From the selfish cooperation of Dawkins’ genes to the basic precept of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”—it makes sense (to me, if no one else) that we do and should rely upon one another, and that to do otherwise is to not only limit ourselves as individuals, but, more to the point, as a species.
The retrograde trend towards enforcing national identity, segregating and separating, to thinking in terms of “them and us” whatever the context (and especially when it is presented as an aspect of “independence”), is both depressing and fundamentally dangerous. Protecting one’s own identity, living as the person you are—yes, these are rights certainly worth fighting for. But when that sense of identity, of living “independently” of someone or something else is pushed to the fore … be careful: it’s probably a lie, and you’ll probably suffer for it in the end.
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© 2013 Gary William Murning