Friday, September 5, 2008

On Inter/In/Dependence

Three weeks ago or so, my wife and I were made ward missionaries. As this is a calling in which Alana and I will have to jointly leave the house and our two (very) small children, our bishop was very hesitant to extend such a calling--but we were excited, and it has already been a wonderful blessing. Wanting to engage right away, we jointly agreed that one of us would prepare a backup gospel principles lesson each week, just in case the regular teacher happened to be absent without providing for a backup (which he had been occasionally, or so we'd heard).

Well--that very first week, the regular teacher was absent, and I got to hear Alana give the best lesson on service that I have ever had the privilege to attend. As part of that lesson, she taught about the importance of learning to accept service as well as give it, something that readers of this blog will know is a lesson we have learned this summer. In describing the process of learning to be served, Alana explained that most of us recognize a natural progression in our lives from being dependent to being independent. Every teenager understands the importance of this progression and tries to accelerate the process--usually reaching for independence before they are ready for it. This was no big news.

But the Beautiful Mrs. Hutchins' next point was an absolute bombshell. She pointed out that most of us view independence as the desired endpoint in our physical/emotional/spiritual maturation but that the real pinnacle of progress is a state of interdependence. Now, stop and think about that. We are all quite eager to move from dependent to independent--but how many of us are then eager to be interdependent?

I teach a class in college writing where group work is paramount. For the last third of my class, each group of 4-5 students turns in one assignment, and every student in that group receives the same grade. Most students hate this. They hate being dependent in any way on the contributions of another individual; they want total control in their own hands.

But I'm fairly certain that one of the main purposes in our mortal probation is learning to embrace a state of interdependence. Quick--who is the individual that most desires independence and autonomy? If you answered Satan, award yourself two points. Satan wanted all of the control in his own hands; he didn't want to depend on anyone, not even the Father.

Now, I'm not trying to shy away from a great American tradition in the Declaration of Independence--but I think the founding fathers would agree that they were more than happy to depend on France's military aid in the Revolutionary War. No one in that Second Continental Congress would have dreamed of rejecting France's proffered aid in the name of being strictly and completely independent.

Nor am I suggesting that Alana revealed some novel truth in extolling the virtues of interdependence. I think that most of us realize this in a limited sense--we all agree that we need divine succor and aid in our lives and none of us feel that we should be ashamed of accepting help from our Heavenly Father or Savior. Quite frequently, however, I think we feel that being dependent on another mortal is degrading or demeaning, that we have somehow slipped from an ideal state of independence. Fooey. This is our pride speaking, and as President Ezra Taft Benson stated, "The central feature of pride is enmity--enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen." None of us would make enmity or even pride an end goal or virtue--but that is what we do when we strive for absolute independence.

Willingly becoming interdependent involves meekness, humility and faith in your fellowman; I am convinced that interdependence is the key quality of a Zion community. If Zion is to be a society of physical and spiritual equals (and if you don't think it will be, read 4th Nephi 1:17-18 and D&C 78:5-6) and we are all unequals before arriving in Zion (and we are--the United States and the world in general are moving towards ever greater income disparities, and I would venture to say that this is true in the Church as well, if to a lesser extent), then the only way to make Zion a community of equals is to willingly become interdependent, to accept the freely given gifts of those who are your superiors in both physical and spiritual things without pride-induced shame.

We tend to think of the progression from dependence to independence as an isolated event, a single moment of change that takes place in our teens. In reality, this progression is like a set of stairs stair, where we step from dependence to independence to interdependence line and precept upon precept. Until I heard Alana's lesson, I hadn't even considered that there was a higher place to put my foot. Now I know--thanks, love.


Aaron H. said...

nice thoughtful post here.

i'll confess that i am very interdependent despite any aura i give otherwise. but at the same time, and more often than not, i, like your students, loathe having to rely on others; especially when their track record gives substance to my loathing.

Becky said...

Good, good stuff. I think having Ben has made me interdependant. I used to hate relying on others for help but have come to realize (via lecture by dad) that not only am I being blessed but the one helping is too. How can I deny them blessings? So...I've learned humility through all of this. It's been a good thing. I feel the love of Christ the strongest through others service. I miss you guys!!!