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The United States of America celebrates 4th July as its Independence Day, the day it adopted the American Declaration of Independence from Great Britain (it wasn’t actually signed for about another month). It is the biggest of the American public holidays and quite rightly so.
Independence means so many different things to so many different people. Back in 1968 I received my first pay packet, the first money that I had truly earned rather than having been given. I believed it made me independent from my family. I was wrong, of course. I was still living in their house, eating their food, watching their TV etc. Though I was now making a small financial contribution. I certainly couldn’t afford the independence required to live alone. That meant that I wasn’t independent at all. That only happened when I moved out and had to start taking care of myself.
But was I then truly independent? No. I was dependent on being able to earn a living, which made me very dependent on my employer. I had merely swapped one dependency for another. But I was also dependent on other people for friendship, love and comfort. In leaving my family home I had left those things behind. Not irretrievably, I still went home for holidays, but they weren’t being felt on a day to day basis.
Even today I’m not truly independent. True, I no longer have to trudge into a shop, factory, field or office to earn my living, but there are a whole range of other dependencies that allow me that luxury, not least of which is my dependency on my readers buying my books. I am also still dependent on family and friends for love and affection. Without them I wouldn’t have those things.
For me the word “independence” sits alongside words like “freedom”, “liberty”, “justice” and “equality”. They are great to aspire to but aren’t really achievable in any real sense. We are subject to laws, so we aren’t really free. We can’t go just anywhere we want, so we don’t truly have liberty. Justice is what the law decides, not what we feel to be justice, as any victim of crime will tell you.
As for equality, that is the hardest one of all to achieve. Aristotle said, “The worst form of equality is to try to make unequal things equal”.
Laws don’t make people equal, they only make people less unequal. I am not equal to Usain Bolt, and nor will I ever be, because I can’t run 100 metres in 9.58 seconds. It doesn’t matter what laws may be made, that fact will never change. I am not the equal of Albert Einstein because I can’t understand either maths or science the way he could.
There are a million such comparisons that I could make that show I’m not the equal of others, both in a positive and a negative sense. However, that is not to say that we shouldn’t treat people as equals. That is an entirely different matter. As Osho Rajneesh, the Indian mystic, once said “Nobody is superior, nobody is inferior, but nobody is equal either. People are simply unique, incomparable. You are you, I am I”.
Independence, I feel, may be worth striving for, but it may not be worth achieving. When we gain total independence we also lose something. To be truly independent would be to be isolated. It is in our dependencies that we find our friends and loved ones, not in our independence.
So, happy Dependence Day, one and all.
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Click to see: Books by Robert Cubitt