As I write this, it’s the Fourth of July, the day that in the United States we celebrate freedom, independence, liberty, and justice for all. Today, and this month in general, I am reflecting on just what the balance is between independence, and interdependence. This last Sunday, we had a service devoted to telling one perspective on the conflict in the Middle East, in the region known both as Israel and Palestine. It was a difficult, contentious description of reality there, much as the place itself is filled with difficult, contentious perspectives. This to me seems true of so much of our world—our world and our lives are filled with conflicting stories, conflicting values, conflicting perspectives.
We live in a world where we highly value independence, autonomy, and personal (and national) authority. We set a high priority on personal and national strength, and on establishing clear boundary lines between ourselves and those who might endanger us, our values, or our lives. And this seems to be an extremely important thing to do. Without clear boundaries, we are at risk of violation. Without a clear sense of personal and national identity, we may lose freedoms that are essential to us.
And yet independence is a complex, and imperfect--or at least incomplete--way to approach our lives. Whether we like it or not, we are truly interdependent. We can’t avoid being affected by what happens thousands of miles away (especially now, in such a global economy and political reality). We can’t avoid being dependent upon the resources of other places, or being affected by the actions of people both near and far away.
So how do we balance our independence with our interdependence? How do we honor various points of view, listening to all sides of the story, and still hold true to our personal values? How do we hold our boundaries while being open to learning, listening, sharing, and interconnecting?
I believe the answer lies in compassion. Often, I find myself trying to help others resolve conflicts by suggesting ways that they can set boundaries with compassion. One teacher helped me to understand this by saying, “Learn to speak your truth, without blame or judgment.” Of course, it’s the blame and judgment part that’s hard. Can we find ways to speak honestly, and listen compassionately, without taking the next step to blame or judgment? Whether the subject is global politics, local politics, church politics, or family relationships, refraining from judgment is a tricky thing.
How do we clearly assert, “This is true for me,” without saying “So it’s wrong for you too”?
For me, the trick is to learn how to be discerning—recognizing what is true for me, what I observe—without translating that into statements of absolute truth or value for others. It’s those old-fashioned “I” statements which seem to be at the core of balancing honoring myself, without dishonoring others.
As we celebrate our own independence, let us do so with an eye towards how we are also interdependent. Perhaps we can find ways to honor the inherent worth and dignity of each path, each story, while remaining in respectful, compassionate relationship with one another.
May it be so,