Soon we will be lifting our heads towards the sky to witness the dazzling display of fireworks that marks the celebration of Independence Day in the United States. For Americans, this is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on our good fortune of being born, through no effort of our own, on the soil of a country which offers us a great deal of freedom.
We can easily take this freedom for granted. We mostly go where we want to go, say what we want to say, worship the way we want to worship — and we pay little attention to this gift of freedom. But freedom is different from independence, and I'm wondering if it might be time to start celebrating interdependence day. After all, interdependence is a more accurate description of the true nature of our existence.
Think about how dependent we are on each other. People are dependent on food and farmers; farmers are dependent on trucks; trucks are dependent on roads that are dependent on machines that are dependent on other machines . . . well, you get the idea. Perhaps there's no greater system of interdependence than the human body whose complex network of organs and functions seem to find a way to coexist for the ultimate benefit of the larger organism.
Our freedom is largely a result of this interdependence. A network of roads allows me to drive almost anywhere I want to go. A network of electricity allows me to have light for reading a book. A network of banks allows me to get paid and write checks. Each network consists of a myriad of individuals who depend on each other. Without the cooperation and interdependence of all these individuals (and objects), we would have little freedom.
In all honesty, I know how to do very little. I can't build a car. Or construct a bridge. I can't make a working refrigerator. Nor could I fashion a functional bread knife. Once I baked bread by grinding wheat berries into flour. But I still needed an oven, a bowl and a grinder. I don't know how to make any of these objects. I'm not even sure what is involved in making yeast. The freedom I have to bake my own bread is the end result of a complex network of people, machines, energy, and planetary resources. Even the eye doctor who examines my eyes and the person and machine that grind the lenses in my glasses are part of this "bread-baking freedom" that I so much appreciate.
"When you reflect on your personal freedom, you can't help but see the interdependence of life. We depend on people. Lots of people."
How might we celebrate interdependence day? Well, we could spend a few minutes reflecting on all the people "upstream" who help make our freedom possible. Let's see, for me there's Dotie, the local postmaster who sorts my mail. And Cindy at the supermarket who puts the fresh produce on the shelf. And, of course, Susan, the previous owner of this house, who took such good care of it before I moved in. These are all people I know.
There are many more people I don't know. Like the people who helped assemble my Subaru that gives me freedom to drive on icy roads in the winter. Or the people who worked hard at erecting telephone poles that carry wires that carry my voice for many miles. Or all the people involved in shipping my watch from the factory to the store where my wife bought if for me (even my wife is "upstream" in this case).
When you reflect on your personal freedom you can't help but see the interdependence of life. We depend on people. Lots of people. It's not unusual to find references to "oneness" in the world's great religious traditions and in philosophy. But the type of reflection I'm describing (called Naikan in Japan) brings philosophy down to earth. We realize how connected we are. We realize how supported we are. And we see, in the most practical way, how interdependent we all are.
If you want to take this a step further, try putting a note in a bottle and sending it upstream. Write a thank you note to someone who helps you have more freedom. Let them know you appreciate what they're doing and how much you've benefited from their efforts. Wouldn't it be wonderful if, every Fourth of July, thank you cards, and even small gifts, were sent upstream in recognition of our freedom and interdependence.
For Americans, the birth of our nation is an important date to remember. But let's also acknowledge the birth of our awareness. People everywhere can join us in celebrating the awareness that freedom is a gift. It is a gift that is available to us thanks to the efforts and work of countless people, past and present. Self-reflection and gratitude may not be as spectacular as fireworks. But they offer human beings a better chance at transforming our relationships with one another. And we need that — now more than ever.
Happy Interdependence Day!
Gregg Krech is the Director of the ToDo Institute and author of several books including Naikan: Gratitude, Grace and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection, a Spirituality & Practice award winner as one of the best spiritual books of 2002.
For more information on Gregg Krech's work, visit the ToDo Institute's website.