Lindsey Peterson: Must value our interconnectedness

  • The Declaration of Independence which birthed our nation needs a shifted consciousness.

Published: 7/3/2018 10:45:19 PM

A declaration of independence has within it the experience of dependence. It is precisely an awareness of the ability of others to shape our lives, of their entanglement with our own, that we have the occasional impulse to declare ourselves separate from them, independent.

Yet while it comes out of an awareness of this dependence, a declaration of independence desires to flee such a primary state.

Our country birthed itself on the value of independence. With the Declaration, independence became codified as our nation’s primary value. We are proud of our freedom, our liberty, our right to be separate from others.

In our hyper-valuing of independence, we have fled the reality of our dependence. The primacy of independence as right, aspiration and organizing principle has denied us a way to value the existential experience and natural reality of our interconnectedness.

I was raised to be an independent child and adult — literally. My parents read “How to Raise an Independent Child” and used it as a guide in the early 1980s. I value my independence. I am proud of my ability to do most things and get mostly by on my own.

To achieve such independence, I was taught deeply and by observation, was to succeed. I am not alone in being raised to value and strive toward independence. It is the language of success in many American households, particularly white ones.

Even our God, the white Jesus so many of us (WASPs) grew up with, is a companion to fortify us in lonely independence rather than a partner in actual human relationship. Take, for example, the lyrics of the popular hymn “In the Garden.”

I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses.

And the voice I hear, falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses,

And he walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I’m his own,

and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.

Independence in extreme is lonely and irresponsible. It is a value that removes us from relationship. Independence has a place, but we are forgetting our primary dependence. We have denied ourselves a way of valuing our essential interconnectedness. It is in the context of interconnectedness, our evolutionary context, that we develop a sensibility of responsibility.

As climate change confronts us with natural disasters that our proud independence has not equipped us to deal with; as our government takes independence to its separate from and power over extremes, we are seeing the limits and harm of the primacy of the value of independence.

We need to become responsible for one another.

We are in relationship, all the time. That is the fact of it. No amount of money — the currency of independence — will protect any of us, at least in the long term, from the climate crises we have brought on.

We need another way of being. We need a shift in our expressed and operating value system. Systems raised up on the supremacy of the value of independence are not working for the preservation of and flourishing of life. The Declaration of Independence which birthed our nation needs a shifted consciousness.

Life is interconnectedness.

The preservation and flourishing of life itself has to become our core value. A declaration of independence without a consciousness of dependence is dangerous ignorance. Black Lives Matter and movements for indigenous rights, are providing us opportunities — perceived as a challenge by many white people — to revalue life. The independence valued by our nation has always been hinged to the enslavement of black people and the taking of land from indigenous communities. Our independence has always been a highly dependent state.

There is a resistance among white persons, we who have been formed as winners in the value system of independent whiteness, to shifting our value system. It feels as if in moving from valuing independence to interconnectedness, we lose. We do lose the unexamined power over that we have been granted by “succeeding” in the value system of a dependent independence. We do lose operating without accountability.

But winning at independence is a lonely game. Our resistance, as white people, is deep. It feels like moving away from being and succeeding at being independent is a death. We inside whiteness have been trained to see a shared-being as weakness.

In an interview on “On Being” with Krista Tippett, public theologian and activist Ruby Sales observes, “It’s almost like white people don’t believe that other white people are worthy of being redeemed.”

Put another way, it is as if we inside of whiteness have been so sold on white independence as the only way of life that we are willing to kill ourselves (and others) to protect the illusion of independence rather than to evolve into a new value system; one that recenters itself around the value of life; that recognizes our place within a complex interconnected network of living beings.

To “succeed” in this network is not to be independent but to be being in relationship. We are beings only by way of being in relationship with other living beings.

Whiteness is a system that has worked on us and displaced where we locate our value. Our value as human beings ought to be felt in our relationships. It is exhausting to uphold a false narrative that we are better than, and that being apart from is being better than.

We’ve been raised in a sometimes subtly and sometimes explicitly brutal narrative that being better is our value and that independence is the goal of being. We have lost our ability to trust, to love and to care for one another, including for ourselves.

We have hardened, because how is it possible to love oneself, to feel any deep sense of self-worth when our nature as interconnected living beings is denied by the hyper-valuation of independence and whiteness our country has made?

Lindsey Peterson is an officiant and singer/songwriter who lives in Northampton.


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