Independence or interdependence?


The day after the Fourth of July, I encountered a man wearing a shirt which proclaimed: “I built my business. The government didn’t build my business.” His declaration of independence very much tempted me to ask:

  • Did you build the roads that your customers use to drive to your business, that your suppliers use to bring the materials you need to conduct your business, and for that matter, that you traverse every day, expecting that the traffic lights will work, that the pavements will contain no hazards, and in the event of severe weather, that maintenance crews will plow snow, clear fallen trees, and do whatever else your safe passage might require?
  • Did you create the monetary system that your customers use to make purchases from your business?
  • Did you hire the teachers who educated your employees?
  • Did you create your own police and fire services, to ensure the safety of your business?

It might have proved interesting to engage in conversation that man with the t-shirt, to determine the extent to which he truly believed that he had “done it alone”, although something about his demeanor suggested that he probably would not have opened up to rational dialogue on the matter. In any case, the notion that the “I” succeeds in this world absolutely independently, with no reliance on government and others, is ludicrous.

The American Founding Fathers declared political independence – the establishment of a separate nation. That very act, however, along with the entire American Revolution, relied entirely on interdependence – mutual collaboration among people, organizations, and colonies, to wage war and to establish a new social and economic order.

The next couple of centuries of European settlement in North America involved extensive interdependence (not to mention the years of interdependence among native people prior to the Europeans’ arrival, but that’s a different discussion). Individuals worked in common to create communities, produce goods and services, and form political, social, and religious institutions. Not to say that people always agreed with one another. Sometimes disagreement even turned violent, the Civil War being probably the most extreme division. However, joint efforts, humans engaging with other humans, produced all notable achievements within these United States throughout the course of the nation’s history.

As we confront the challenges of the 21st century, our interdependence motivates us to recognize our common fate, develop joint goals, and collaboratively forge inventive solutions to social, economic, and environmental issues. Those issues range all over the map: international development; national security; local business development; community crime prevention; affordable, energy-efficient housing; long-term care of the aging; climate change; education relevant to a changing world. You can add to the list of local, national, and international issues that we need to address.

John Donne said it poetically:

“No man is an island,

Entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main. …

Any man’s death diminishes me,

Because I am involved in mankind.”

At Wilder Research, we work on issues which call for joint effort, sometimes motivated by an inventive, entrepreneurial desire to improve communities’ quality of life and build a better world, sometimes motivated by compassion to remedy a problem, right an injustice, or eliminate an obstacle that prevents communities from thriving. Our understanding of our interdependence leads to our acknowledgement of the responsibility to do nothing less. Not only does the death of another human being diminish us, so also does their inability to acquire adequate education, shelter, food, or nurturing. Because we are all interdependent.

As we move forward from this Fourth of July holiday – Happy Interdependence Day!