Originally Published on OpEdNewsWhen contemplating this week 's column, my thoughts turned to the idea of creating a Declaration of Interdependence, which would be designed to encourage a more mature expression of the American impulse.
Synchronistically, Jason White of Propeace.net contacted me this very week and had already written a good article on this same subject (http://www.propeace.net/node/473). A Google search turned up an even richer history; the concept had been proposed in 1944 by Pulitzer-winning philosopher Will Durant, launched with a Hollywood gala, and began something of a small movement before being entered into the Congressional record in 1949. Historian Henry Steele Commager took the second major stab at such a Declaration in 1975. Beyond that, a team of five from the David Suzuki Foundation launched a declaration at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, concluding poetically with,
"At this turning point in our relationship with Earth, we work for an evolution: from dominance to partnership; from fragmentation to connection; from insecurity, to interdependence. "
Local governments, environmental groups, and various historians have all been drawn to the concept and a grassroots movement aims to turn September 1st (or perhaps Sept. 11th) into an international Interdependence Day.
Instead of seeking out more original subject matter, then, I instead want to reflect on why this loose movement is important, especially for America at this turn in history. The reason is that we increasingly have a mismatch between the predominant level of our thinking and the level of the problems that we face. America 's collective psychology is stuck in a hyper-independent mode, which becomes problematic when the challenges we face are systemic and interconnected. Strong assertions of independence, in the form of unilateral decisions, military action, and self-interested economics may be tolerable and even desirable at one stage of development. But for a country that is the only remaining superpower, such a stance destroys the foundation of trust, collaboration, and synergy that is required to truly resolve today 's international challenges.
In short, America is now too powerful to remain merely independent. Either our collective psychology grows into a more mature stance or there will be some sort of corrective to our power. Developmental psychologists have shown that the achievement of an autonomous self is an important step but not the ultimate destination of our growth. Independence is something normally achieved in the early twenties, usually during a period of rebellion against our families of origins, shared values, or ideas. We differentiate ourselves from the matrix out of which we 've grown in order to find ourselves and express our unique gifts for the world.
Once we 've made that developmental leap, though, the game isn 't over. We must then start taking the needs of others as seriously as we do our own. Perhaps we start with a marriage partner, then children, a business, or a church. Our compassionate care expands to widening circles. Right action becomes defined less by what we want and more by what is good for the whole network our family, our community, and our planet. Political leaders, in particular, are charged with wise stewardship of collective resources; a hyper-independent stance is a handicap for them doing an excellent job.
The hallmark of mature adulthood is thus the capacity to think, feel, and act through the lens of interdependence and it is this kind of mature consciousness that we now require.
America 's Declaration of Independence from England was a major advance on many levels, from political to spiritual. Our national character grew into one of rugged individualism, forged in the face of adversity on the frontiers and the triumph of human ingenuity and willpower over life 's challenges. This built a strong, can-do character, epitomized by our entrepreneurism, which has become the gold standard for capitalism the world over.
Today, though, we are increasingly faced with the failure of rugged individualism to adequately respond to today 's challenges. George W. Bush, for example, is a strongly independent man he does not bend or waver. He sticks to his guns and is parodied as a cowboy because he has the strongly masculine qualities of a frontiersman, grounded in warrior virtues. While such a stance is a wonderful advance beyond dependency and victimhood, it isn 't adequate to work effectively with an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world, which is part of why his approval ratings are plummeting.
A worldview grounded in individualism is stymied by situations of systemic and relational complexity because it is not hardwired to take the needs of the other into adequate consideration. By advocating for only one 's own interests rather than skillfully addressing the needs of the whole, individualism trends towards positional stances and the use of aggression to assert the primacy of "our " needs. In turn, this fosters a social climate of fear and attempts to provide security through armament. This proves inefficient and ineffective when situations call for collaborative solutions that are based upon trust rather than dominance.
So, while the Declaration of Independence represented a momentous and bold evolutionary step in launching our country, it 's no longer adequate for us to fixate on our independence when faced with 21st century challenges. As the most powerful nation in the world, we need to increasingly step into the role of mature, adult, global citizens who are acting from care for the whole rather than simple self-interest. The various attempts to create Declarations of Interdependence are all reflections of the same recognition that we have a higher and nobler destination.
What if America were to gather the same caliber of leadership as came together for our founding and forge an enduring new pact, this time with the world. This new statement would reflect and reinforce our interdependence with the entire planet, while honoring the sovereignty that is a pre-requisite. If such a national statement were not possible, perhaps the same end could be achieved more organically out of a network of Declarations of Interdependence, from local city councils and schools to global NGOs.
In either case, when America begins to take our commitment to interdependence as seriously as we do our commit to independence, that 's when we will again light the path forward to a more sustainable and peaceful planet.
Sacred America Series #16
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