Dependency & Interdependence

We are so determined to be independent. When people try to help me, my instinct is to say ‘I’m fine; I can manage by myself.’ But it’s not true: I can’t. I can’t do anything by myself.

I had my breakfast: I didn’t need anyone else to make it for me. Really? Did I make the bread myself? The flour? Did I grow the wheat (or, in my case, the weird gluten-free alternative that I wouldn’t even recognise if I landed in a field of it)?

Actually, I’m like a little kid going ‘look at me, I’m all grown up, I can do it all by myself,’ and then needing mummy to get the milk off the top shelf of the fridge.

“Our skills and abilities all come from the kindness of others; we had to be taught how to eat, how to walk, how to talk, and how to read and write. Even the language we speak is not our own invention but the product of many generations. Without it we could not communicate with others nor share their ideas. We could not read this book, learn Dharma, nor even think clearly. All the facilities we take for granted, such as houses, cars, roads, shops, schools, hospitals, and cinemas, are produced solely through others’ kindness. When we travel by bus or car we take the roads for granted, but many people worked very hard to build them and make them safe for us to use.

 Wherever we look, we find only the kindness of others. We are all interconnected in a web of kindness from which it is impossible to separate ourself. Everything we have and everything we enjoy, including our very life, is due to the kindness of others. In fact, every happiness there is in the world arises as a result of others’ kindness.”

– Geshe Kelsang, Eight Steps to Happiness

If we’re going to be realistic, we are completely dependent on others: that’s OK. In fact, that’s quite beautiful: we are all part of the vast web of kindness that makes up life on Earth. Why would we want to separate ourselves from that?

Of course I’m not saying that this interdependence is a form of dependency. In fact, I think it’s because we try so hard to be independent that we do develop such an emotional dependency on others. Our drive to prove our self-sufficiency builds a wall between ourselves and others; we isolate ourselves behind our façade of ‘the self-made man,’ ‘the independent woman.’ And because we feel so isolated, we grasp onto anyone we feel can breach that wall, cling to them and feel we need them to be around. But this mental stickiness of attachment only arises because we can’t see that we are all connected; that wall around ourselves is only a mental construct.

When that wall comes down, we feel so free – we can rejoice in the connection we share with the whole world:

“Without others we are nothing. Our sense that we are an island, an independent, self-sufficient individual, bears no relation to reality. It is closer to the truth to picture ourself as a cell in the vast body of life, distinct yet intimately bound up with all living beings. We cannot exist without others, and they in turn are affected by everything we do.”

– Geshe Kelsang, Eight Steps to Happiness


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