Brian E Pearson
It's not the place of a citizen of one country to cast doubts or aspersions on the citizens of another. People in glass houses, and all that, not to mention it's just not nice (and we Canadians are nice). But when I think about Independence Day, which our neighbours to the south celebrate today, I have to wonder: independence--where has that led?
We all get the context in which that fundamental concept rose to prominence for the first citizens of the United States of America. They were breaking free of kings and class structures and a culture that fixed your place in the social order by the accidents of your birth. Others determined your worth and your ambitions, whether high or low.
The New World provided a fresh start, a chance for individuals to free themselves from their inherited status and to discover their destiny in pursuit of their own measure of happiness. It was a noble dream, one that invited the entire world to share in its possibilities, that everyone be free. So compelling was this dream, it not only attracted freedom seekers from around the world, swelling America with newcomers, it spurred the new nation to go forth and liberate other nations through its incursive political and military involvement abroad.
But independence is the dream of an adolescent. Feeling, quite rightly, the constraints of the older generations and the rising of their own young blood, the new Americans balanced individual freedoms with only the social safeguards necessary for protecting those freedoms. Citizens were free to serve the needs of their fellow citizens but they were not compelled to do so. Freedom came first, from which social responsibility could follow, or not.
But the dreams of the adolescent are not the dreams of the mature adult, let alone those of the wise elder. The longer we live, the more we realize that independence is an ideal of the young, who see only their freedom from, not their freedom for. "You can't tell me what to do!" is a very different "freedom" than "What is required of me?"
Furthermore, the notion of independence itself is an illusion. Nature knows nothing of independence. Rather, everything is enmeshed within a matrix of intrinsic interconnectivity. Everything. Nothing stands alone, from the flight of the butterfly to the rumble of the transport trailer. The world is affected, and changed, by the working of each of its constituent parts. Some would even say there are no "parts" at all, only the whole, manifested in an infinite variety of ways.
We in Canada feel every shift in American policy and culture, from trade in softwood lumber to the predilections of popular music. The whole world feels these shifts. The brief reign of the last US president (the king of "You can't tell me what to do!") was enough to destabilize the balance of the world powers, emboldening China and Russia, and encouraging every second-string player with a nuclear arsenal to wait for their own explosive moment on the stage.
Those of us with an interest in psychology and/or in religion also know the limits of the notion of independence. No one is a blank slate. No one is as free as they think they are. A myriad of determinate forces underlies every decision we make, including both genetic and social influences. The soul itself seems concerned that we discover, not our precious ego-centric identity, but our place, our role, in the universe--where we "fit," in other words, not how we stand out.
Independence was the dream of a young nation, seeking the freedom to become something new, an evolved society that empowered its citizens rather than oppress them. To some degree, it has achieved that (though there is still much work to do). Now, it's time for that nation to grow into a more adult version of itself by asking: "For what purpose, this freedom?" "What is our niche in this new emerging world?" "What part can we play, what service can we render?" "How can we help?"
Happy Interdependence Day!