What is the opposite of independence?

Sometime in high school, I began thinking about it. The word became relevant when I thought I’d lose it by entering potential relationships. The word became relevant when I felt it driving alone in my car for the first time. Sometime during college, the question of independence broadened. When I was on the verge of joining of a purposeful “community” called InterVarsity, I wondered if I was going to feel less independent. When certain friendships began to feel like odd commitments, I wondered if I had tied my emotional independence to the wrong pole.

I think I grew up assuming that the opposite of independence was dependence. I must have learned somewhere that if I didn’t have complete control, someone else did. And I wouldn’t be free. It’s an interesting concept. I think it goes along with the very modern goal of being totally self-sustaining. Maybe it has to do with how supposedly forward-thinking women are all about their own careers and making their choices apart from men, the way it once was? Maybe I learned the virtues of independence from members of my own family, in marriages and financial success and such.

In recent years, though, I’ve been realizing how the ties that pull me to other people are what most free me. This became clearer after I accepted Christ, and it’s a repeatedly unexpected realization. Centering my life on my own benefit was deteriorating my spirit. There is something hard about thinking consciously about only the person that is me, and the mind can be a toxic place for self-serving thoughts to ferment. An eating disorder taught me that.

There are many forms of independence – financial, emotional… but for me, the most important independence is the one I feel from myself, when I am committed first to being with the people around me. I want to be in the midst of other people’s days, to know how they are doing, to be sometimes inconvenienced by others’ errands and chores and schedules. I want to be in the “flow” (as my dad would say) of work and the world. Doubtless, I often suck back into myself and feel burdened by the fact of the social world; but when it comes right down to it, I want to be tied. Amazing things spring from these links between us.

What is the price of true, social independence? How long can we be our only protagonists before we grow tired of our own desires?


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