As we prepare for the Fourth of July holiday and take a moment to reflect after a difficult 15 months, we can see the American Dream is evolving. For decades, the rhetoric and messages we have received have been about the importance self-reliance—that being self-made and independent is simply part of being American. But when the pandemic made the formal and informal social connections and communities in our lives instantly inaccessible to us, the repercussions were severe. We learned that perhaps being “independent” isn’t always in our best interest.
We’ve all internalized the narrative that to be successful we need to do things on our own, but we know from experience that success is rarely if ever achieved in a vacuum or on an island. Even though we know we need each other, we insist on denying our interdependence. We judge and shame others and ourselves for needing help—even though all of us need help at some point(s) in our lives. How much better would our world be if we could embrace our interdependence and let it inspire us to create solutions that benefit us all?
Hard-Wired to Need Each Other
At our core, humans are meant to live and thrive in community. From the moment we’re born, we need each other—in fact, human babies are among the most helpless of all infant mammals, requiring constant care and attention for years before reaching maturity. We transmit our history and culture through the communal acts of language and storytelling. We gather to celebrate, to mourn, to eat and to play. We’re social creatures, and we each bring special and unique perspective and talents to our social spheres.
Interdependence is humming below the surface of any healthy, vibrant community. We rely on our neighbors to keep an eye on our house when we step out of town. When someone gets married or has a child, we shower them with gifts to start their new lives. We foster children and pets. When someone dies, we organize meal trains and visits. Even our informal and loose social ties contribute significantly to our happiness and sense of belonging. What would happen if we acknowledged and fostered more honest discussions about our human need for connection and support instead of treating interdependence like a sign of failure?
Redefining “Community Service”
Many of us already volunteer our time or resources to support our neighborhoods and cities. As engaged citizens, Americans are generous. Many who are able are giving money to important causes, volunteering at meal programs for the hungry or donating clothes to those in need. While that engagement is critical, embracing our interdependence can help us take an even wider lens on supporting our communities and helping them thrive.
When we lean into our interdependence instead of trying to run from it, we end up serving our communities in ways that are preventive rather than reactive in nature. We invest in school and social programs that alleviate hunger, support English language learners and prevent dropout and incarceration down the line. We get regular checkups at the doctor because we know we aren’t invincible and we recognize that preventative care can improve our health and reduce our medical spending. And those of us who are fortunate enough to own a home may be rethinking how we can use it to support our communities—and ourselves.
Millions of American homeowners have space to share but haven’t even considered the idea because it runs so counter to our society’s love of independence. Our society also has a love of convenience, efficiency, fun and (frankly) money, all of which homesharing can deliver—but we’re blind to these benefits because we’re so worried about being perceived as lacking independence.
Acknowledging—and Meeting—Mutual Need
We are in the middle of a housing crisis in this country. There simply isn’t enough affordable housing available. Millions of American renters can’t afford to live anywhere near where they work or the communities they contribute to—including teachers, essential workers, caregivers and more. If you are fortunate enough to own a home and are open to the idea, opening available space to one of these renters can provide much-needed housing at a rate they can afford. You can be part of addressing the housing crisis, one spare bedroom at a time.
And it’s not as if sharing a home with another person has to be a charity act. It can help meet many of your needs as well: income, help with chores and home maintenance, companionship and so on. So which is better—to grit your teeth and take on extra work so you can say you maintain your home “by yourself,” or to share what you have in exchange for what you need?
This year for the Fourth of July, let’s take a moment to consider and honor our interdependence and all the ways it enriches our lives rather than detracting from them. When we’re open to it, we foster and support the success of our neighbors—which in turn raises all our proverbial boats. Our success as a community depends on our ability to acknowledge, embrace and act on our mutual needs.
Have a safe and Happy Interdependence Day!