In a month, our nation will celebrate Independence Day 2022. There will be fireworks, brass bands, speeches — lots of speeches. Sadly, some will use the Day to seek to divide — to insist that individual freedom is the all in all for our democracy. Individualism will be celebrated and in some places the social contract will be given short shrift. Politicians, and others, will suggest their way is the only true understanding of our national experiment. It will be suggested that those who disagree, are not true-blue Americans. Alas.
I have been giving some thought to a Declaration of Interdependence. It is not a new idea. There have been a number of “Declarations of Interdependence” published over the last century and before. Many of our words and practices for the “common good” seem to have lost valance in the chemistry of our body politic. Words like “neighbor, friend, commonweal, community, kinship, congregation, covenant, alliance” have been lost or turned inside out, swallowed up in a wash of self-interest and the celebration of individual freedoms and options. The idea of a social contract seems to disappear — and it is forgotten that we live best when we are in healthy and respectful relationiships with the stranger.
My time spent with farm people taught me that the weeds in one field, unattended, can eventually damage the neighbor’s harvest. Poor soil protection practices can, through water or wind erosion, hurt the neighbor. And further, when a neighbor is in trouble, those around understand that they need to help repair the damaged roof or aid with the planting or harvest of a nearby farmer in trouble.
We have allowed too many weeds to grow unattended in our national ecology. Sometimes the result of the ugly and bashing words in the media, whether on television on in social media, lead to ugly actions and words on the street. In the extreme, angry self-focused individualism results in damage to us all, sometimes it ends in violent actions toward others. The gun violence exploding across our nation illustrates how “individual rights” have been perverted into foolish misdirections. The fact that ownership, registration, insurance and public safety practices are so lax around assault weapons, as compared to owning and operating an automobile, illustrates the distortion that is possible when we singularly declare individual independence and fail to balance this with a declaration of interdependence.
Our nation has faced antisocial and individualistic tides in the past. Hypercapitalism and selfish, exclusive politics are not new. Folks like Jane Addams marked the way respect for the stranger and those who were excluded by reminding us that “Democracy modifies our conception of life, it constantly raises the value and function of each member of the community.”
If I am unable to persuade my senators, congressman and governor to take common sense steps to save lives, whether around guns. Or, if I can’t immediately address environmental, educational or healthcare concerns, perhaps I can take small steps to declare interdependence in other ways. I have been giving thought to what simple acts might be taken to encourage and perhaps mend the dangerous rifts created by radical individualism. Here are a few small suggestions:
- Write at least one letter (posted in the U.S. mail) at least once a week for the next year.
- Call a friend, especially one you haven’t seen in a while, every day.
- Support a local newspaper, especially one that still has some local ownership. Send a letter to the editorial page.
- Call a school teacher, principal, social worker, nurse or other social servant to simply say “thank you.”
- Smile and greet the store clerk with a postive word.
- Offer the fast food worker a tip for her/his work; and/or pay for the person who is in the car behind you at the fast food restaurant.
- THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF OTHER WAYS WE CAN REBUILD HUMAN GRATITUDE AND TRUST.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who spoke and wrote of a Beloved Community. In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail he writes: “In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be… This is the inter-related structure of reality.” He says it so clearly and simply — “connection is health.”
Wendell Berry’s novels, poetry and essays all provide clear and compelling calls to Interdependence.
In wondering what I might do to take some small step in repairing the fabric of civic life and the building a beloved community, my phone rang. It was a surprising invitation from a friend inviting me to participate in a monthly gathering of men to spend an evening together in conversation and friendship — no big agenda (at least not at first). It was just a small invitation. When the friend asked if I was interested, I laughed and said, “Your call came right on time.”