Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Illusion of Independence

"A Web of Relationship"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -

I was mildly amused if not somewhat troubled by a recent TV interview with a Donald Trump supporter who, when asked why he is voting for Mr. Trump, responded: “I really like what Trump has to say about being a winner and I like the fact that he is independently wealthy. Personally, I don’t want to have to depend on anybody.” Obviously the man in that interview defined winning as being “independent” – not needing to rely on anyone else for happiness or survival.

As I see it, when we shrink away from a reliance upon others, we are far more likely to be losers rather than winners in life. Furthermore, in a very real sense independence is an illusion – we are all dynamically interdependent and practically speaking, regardless of how wealthy or how well-established any of us might be, every single one of us is always deeply dependent upon others for our very survival in our everyday lives.

There is a line from a prayer in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer:

Grant that we may never forget that
our common life depends upon each other’s toil.

I find great wisdom in this one little sentence.

Last Sunday my wife and I were at our local “Farmer’s Market” where we talked to someone at one of the booths about her project of teaching elementary school kids about how the food we eat is locally grown and produced. She told us: “We don’t want our kids to think that our food comes from the back room of the supermarket, so show them local farms and they get to see all the hard work that goes into bringing all the great fruits and vegetables to the table every day.”

Maybe everyone of us should take a little mini course on just how the food we eat each day is grown and how very much we depend upon each other’s toil. While most people hardly think that the food they eat comes from the back room of a local market, many sort of act like that’s exactly where the food comes from. We are often oblivious to all that goes into being able to buy that fresh tomato that we may eat in a salad – the farmers who till the soil and plant the seed, the crop-pickers, the truckers who transport the food, and the vendors who prepare and sell it. We are all part of a dynamic web of interdependence which literally keeps all of us alive on a day to day basis.

Independence is an illusion.

Yesterday was “trash pickup day” in our neighborhood. As I listened to the sound of the trucks coming around to empty the roadside trash cans and clean the streets I was reminded of a time several years ago when we lived back East and the sanitation workers went on strike for over a month. I can still quite vividly recall how shabby everything started to look on our street and how horribly the neighborhood smelled as piles of trash began to accumulate in the roadside bins. A few weeks into the strike, the Health Department began to issue warnings about the potential spread of disease and rodent infestation due to the piles of “garbage” on the city streets.

On the day the sanitation workers ended their strike and went back to work, it was such a joyful noise to hear the sound of those “taken for granted” trash trucks rolling through the neighborhood.  

Yesterday when the trucks came around to gather up the trash,  I said a prayer of thanks for all the hard work being done on my behalf.

It really is true that our common life depends upon each others toil - independence is an illusion.

Buddhist monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, once said:

You are me and I am you.
Isn’t is obvious that we inter-are?

Yes, I think it is obvious.