I recently finished a book called Romans Disarmed by Sylvia Keesmaat and Brian Walsh, and am partway through Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality by Thomas E. Reynolds. I also recently finished a re-watch of the Star Wars saga. All of this has caused me to reflect and develop my thinking on the issue of interdependence further.
It has long struck me as curious that interdependence seems to carry so much negative connotations. Perhaps we’re better at recognizing, at least in theory, that the world writ large is interconnected and thus interdependent–but I often find that the application in our personal relationships is lacking much, and our application in the larger world leaves a lot to be desired as well.
I have heard many of my generation navigating the dating world advocate for the idea that love and relationships should only form between independent and equal partners. You must love yourself before you can love others is the common refrain, as is the idea that you must be sufficient in yourself, and a relationship can only be thought of when this is so.
This, in my opinion, is utter nonsense. If we acknowledge that humans are a social species (which I think most of us can agree on), and if we further acknowledge that we can only become who we’re meant to be through being relational (which is certainly a tenet of Christian faith), then why do we think it so important to hold ourselves aloof? I know, as someone who has longed for a romantic relationship for years, but for whom it remains elusive, that being single is deeply painful for me. I crave the connection and intimacy of a relationship, and I feel incomplete without one. I do not think that is surprising or unusual–indeed, I think it is the human condition to flourish in relationships of love, vulnerability, and intimacy. Don’t get me wrong–I certainly have solid and good relationships with friends and family–but just as my relations with my friends are not the same as my relations with my family, so too would a romantic relationship be a different thing altogether and I see no shame in admitting that I need a romantic relationship in my life as well.
Yet somehow people push back against that, and get scared by the idea of interdependent relationships. Yet aren’t all our relationships interdependent? Relationships thrive on communication, vulnerability, and intimacy. Being in relationship means being open to the risk of pain, but the rewards when it works out are beyond measure.
Now, I should also point out, I do believe there is a difference between interdependence and co-dependence. Co-dependence, in my understanding, is where boundaries merge so much that the loss of the relationship is disastrous to both parties, and it is where, rather than being a source of flourishing and life, the relationship becomes so isolating from the rest of the world that it in a sense becomes a source of death and brokenness. Interdependence, on the other hand, does not preclude other relationships–rather, it is the recognition that each relationship is a mutual journeying and partnership that helps both parties grow and flourish and learn, and that all relationships have this potential, for all our interdependent. Holding fast to independence is, at its core, a denial of our relational nature and, in many ways makes those who can’t achieve that independence feel inadequate, and unworthy of love.
This same issue applies to the world at large. Much of our Western worldview advocates for unlimited growth of the market and for independence of the nation and the individual. Yet through the power of the Internet, through the findings of science on climate change, evolutionary history, psychology, and cultural history, we are constantly having this view challenged. As the rhetoric advocating for unlimited growth and independence ramps up to near-hysterical extremes, the reminder of our interconnectedness and interdependence is becoming more and more clear, with the evidence mounting at an unprecedented rate.
It seems clear to me, and many others with eyes to see and ears to hear, that these two worldviews are headed for a clash at near-lightspeed. The issue, of course, is that confined as we our to this blue marble of a world, there is really only one of these worldviews that can win in the end. We do still have time to avert a catastrophic collision of the two worldviews, but that time is fast running out. We can either choose to recognize our interdependence and interconnectedness willingly and adjust our behaviour accordingly, or we can be forcibly reminded and hope that we can salvage something from the ashes–but either way, the worldview of unlimited growth and independence is fast reaching the end of its time.
Yet one piece of good news is that one of the most important areas to act out this worldview is in our relationships–because that, in the end, is what our cultures, communities, and lives are built on. So let’s start recognizing and celebrating our interdependency, and leaning into relationships of open communication, intimacy, and vulnerability so that we may yet avert the coming disaster of colliding worldviews.