Autonomy VS Interdependence
As someone who works in the field of ‘self-help’, I’m about to come out of the closet with a controversial viewpoint.
Our quest for self-help is misguided and, frankly, is messing us up.
Of course, it’s important we care for ourselves. Obviously. Yet, the trend on this quest all too often has us repeating an old, shitty narrative that in reality actually prohibits us from ever achieving true wellness. Western values have us trained to value Autonomy and Independence above all else. This egocentric focus on self-first, stronger boundaries, self-protection, and autonomy instills and perpetuates this notion that ‘others’ will always take what is yours if given the chance, that you don’t NEED anyone, that leaning on others is burdensome and weak, and that each of us has everything we need inside of us (which is only TRUE because of collective consciousness, ONEness… but that’s real deep, and I digress). So, what’s the point in connecting with someone who just might eventually ask something of you anyway? Autonomy tells us that true freedom comes from needing nothing from others and having no one need from you. Sorry friends to uproot a potentially core belief, but I’m calling bullshit. Having someone you can depend on does not necessarily make you co-dependent. Let’s stop pathologizing community. There. I said it.
This point that I have been screaming from the mountaintops since becoming a mom (and crying into my pillow since becoming a widowed mom) is FINALLY making itself properly evident to the rest of the world. Thanks to isolation and social distancing we are all finally understanding how vital eye contact, touch, and meaningful conversation is to our well-being. We are not meant to be alone! Without each other, most of us kinda fall apart. And not because we’re not strong enough or don’t Love ourselves enough. Because of our nature. We can’t ‘self-help’ our way out of that. We are tribal beings, pack animals. Our ideas are better when we collaborate. Our shame disappears when we share it. Our art demands to be seen. Our children are bored AF without other kids to play with. We lose our creativity without other humans to make us laugh or inspire us. Touch keeps us sane. Now for the million dollar question… How is it, in a world where we ALL need each other, we are so unwilling to inconvenience ourselves in support or service to others?
“It’s not about anyone else. It’s all up to you. No one is going to do it for you. Take care of yourself first. They are not your responsibility. We must have strong boundaries to avoid being taken advantage of. Each (wo)man for her(him)self. We must be opportunistic. If you don’t take it, they will. That’s your problem bro.”
There exist truths in each of these statements. AND, like it or not, we are a community. A GLOBAL community. The hippies have been saying it for a long time now, “Think globally, act locally.” “Your healing is my healing.” And it’s TRUE! If you’re not doing OK, yes, take care of yourself. Please! Do it for yourself, and also for me, for your children, and for the rest of your community. Do it because we are all in this together. Do it because, if you are well, you are able to participate. If you cannot find a place inside of you that believes you are worthy, find a place outside of you where you can be of service. THIS is also self-care. This is what it means to belong or to be a part of something. THIS is the vital piece of healing that your autonomy didn’t tell you would keep you sick. It is healthy to need someone. It is healthy to be needed. It is also healthy to say no, I can’t help this time. It’s important to check in with your own innate wisdom and be responsible to yourself. Let’s just not get stuck in the same draining, selfish, or disempowering pattern.
I live in Bali, in the middle of a global pandemic, where people aren’t really getting sick (we can, or preferably can NOT, debate the accuracy of this statement or the current availability of ANY accurate information some other time). Regardless, I wear my mask, and I smile with my eyes when locals pump hand sanitizer on my hands. I’m out in public as little as possible, and when I am, I respect social distances. NOT BECAUSE IM AFRAID of viruses or judgment, but because of SOLIDARITY, COMMUNITY, COMPASSION, & RESPECT.
I am a GUEST here. The economy on this island, primarily funded by the tourist dollar, is crashing hard and fast. More than they seem to worry about getting sick, locals are scared they won’t be able to feed their family much longer. They desperately want life to go back to normal as quickly as possible. Now, I am a free adult who has almost infinite choice. I’m not 15. I don’t need to prove my sovereignty to myself or anyone else with any sort of petulant rebellion. The request of my neighbors for me to ‘please wear a mask’ and ‘please don’t gather in public places’ is not an attack on me or any of us. It’s not a fight. It’s a communal effort, believe in its efficiency or not. Doesn’t matter. What matters is that my Balinese neighbors feel more comfortable if I wear a mask. They feel more comfortable driving by the local cafe and NOT seeing it packed with white folks. So, I wear one. And I’m not at crowded cafes (yes, here in Bali some cafes and restaurants are still open and packed). Regardless of what I or anyone else believes might be the True Evil behind Covid, my Balinese neighbors believe that if we all wear masks, keep our social distance, & grease up with sanitizer, that life might go back to normal a bit sooner. So I wear my mask, keep my social distance, and grease up with sanitizer. Because their comfort means something to me. I wear my mask like a flag that says “I’m with you. I’m on Team Bali”. I am blessed not to be in fear. I wear my mask to comfort those who are. Doesn’t matter what my opinions are on microchips or Bill Gates, 5G, how contagious Corona is, whether or not we’re being controlled by The Man, or how effective or bullshit any of these protective measures might be… that’s not what this about to me at all. It’s about being a healing balm vs a thorn, it’s about participating in COMMUNITY. My desire to comfort my neighbor supersedes my need to fight for my right not to wear a stupid mask or meet my friends in a public cafe for coffee. My sense of freedom is not that fragile.
I hate wearing a mask. It’s bloody hot here, and we don’t have access to those sexy fashion statements available in the western world. And yet, I will gladly ‘put myself out’ a bit if it comforts my neighbors. I would be late for an appointment if I saw someone fall on the street and need care. I would donate my spare afternoon to watch a kid whose parents needed a date night. I would wake up early or go to bed late to match the timezone of a friend who needed to talk. I would buy 10 bottles of Jamu instead of one to help the Balinese momma who’s been out of work since this whole thing (seriously though, anyone need any Jamu?) We take care of each other. This is interdependence. Fuck autonomy. Let’s be a community again.