Independence and Interdependence

A New Unity Sunday Gathering

As individuals, we can speak
Together, we can converse
As individuals, we can wear a jumper for warmth
Together, we can embrace
As individuals, we sings solos
Together, we create harmony
As individuals, we can complain about the world’s troubles
Together, we become a movement for change
Let the light of this flame drive away the shadows that keep us separated
And make room for connection



By William Ellery Channing

Others are affected by what I am, and say, and do.
So that a single act of mine may spread and spread in widening circles, through a nation or humanity.
Through my vice I intensify the taint of vice throughout the universe.
Through my misery I make multitudes sad.
On the other hand, every development of my virtue makes me an ampler blessing to [all others]
Every new truth that I gain makes me a brighter light to humanity.


By George E. Odell

We need one another when we mourn and would be comforted.
We need one another when we are in trouble and afraid.
We need one another when we are in despair, in temptation, and need to be recalled to our best selves again.
We need one another when we would accomplish some great purpose, and cannot do it alone.
We need one another in the hour of success, when we look for someone to share our triumphs.
We need one another in the hour of defeat, when with encouragement we might endure, and stand again.
We need one another when we come to die, and would have gentle hands prepare us for the journey.
All our lives we are in need, and others are in need of us.

Message, by Andy Pakula


I have become slightly obsessed lately. Some of you are aware and some of you have even benefited from my obsession. Others have smiled politely when I’ve talked about it.
I love fermentation. Yes. I make sauerkraut. I have been making pickled cucumbers, beets, radish, and tomatoes. I make milk kefir, I make kombucha, and I am making my first batch of apple cider vinegar.

This feels a bit like a confession…

I have always loved food and cooking and this particular interest brings that together with my scientific background. You see, all of these foods involve microorganisms. Sauerkraut is just cabbage, salt, and the hard work of bacteria. The bacteria grow because I give them food and the right conditions and they give me tart, crunchy sauerkraut.

Some of the others are even more interesting because they involve not just one kind of microorganism. I won’t go into details and bore those who are not quite as geeky as me, but suffice it to say that there is synergy going on - synergistic communities of bacteria and yeasts that feed one another and transform foods in the process.

Synergistic, interdependent living is not unusual in the natural world.

Consider flowers. Our lives depend on flowers - not just because it warms our hearts to receive them but because most of the fruits and vegetables we eat reproduce through flowers. Flowers need to be pollinated by other flowers and most of them cannot do that on their own. They need bees and other insects which carry pollen from flower to flower. The flowers feed the insects. The insects pollinate the flowers. Interdependence.

When you give or receive flowers, maybe think about them as a symbol of interdependence about how much we all need one another.

We humans are also becoming more and more aware now that we - as organisms - are actually interdependent communities ourselves. Each of us contains about 100 trillion microbes - 10 times more than the human cells of our body. Mostly, these organisms live along with us happily. They need us and we need them. Scientists are learning more and more about how these friends who live with us help us and how their health is important to ours.

And despite all of this interdependence around and even within us, we have the notion somehow that depending on anyone else is unacceptably weak. It's only if we need no one, we're told, that we have become fully adult and mature and successful.

We know that we are dependent when we are children. We can't feed ourselves or dress ourselves. We need adults to do just about everything for us. As we get older, we begin to be able to do more and more for ourselves. Most of us reach a point where it feels actually painful to need our parents for anything. A great moment in our development comes when and if we are able to move away from home and make it on our own.

We consider this normal here and we might look askance at someone who doesn't who move on from the family home or continues to rely on family for anything.

In some societies, this is not considered normal. It is normal to live with multiple generations of family cooperatively and relying on one another.

Here, in the West, we have a sense that our goals should be about our own happiness and security. We are encouraged to take an individualistic approach to living. If I stood here and told you that the health of this congregation is more important than your happiness, you might think I was thoughtless. If I suggested that you should put the needs of newcomers before your own comfort because they are alone and you have each other, you might consider that an unfair request.

We tend to evaluate everything by how it affects us individually - based on what we like - rather than on some greater good.

And this is not something we come to on our own. The capitalistic market system needs for us to be thinking about our needs, our likes and dislikes, and our own perspectives. It reminds us of that through the advertising we are exposed to many times a day,

Imagine the economic disaster if we all suddenly started spending based on the good of the neediest in our society rather than our own good. Sales of luxury cars, expensive clothes, jewelry, and restaurant meals would plummet.

If we didn't all lose our jobs and the entire system collapse, a torrent of money would pour into providing education for everyone, decent housing for everyone, affordable public transportation, a living wage for all work, renewable energy, and equal access to the legal system.

But, that possibility seems absurd, doesn't it? If our spending is an indication of our true values, then we value our comfort much higher than we do the suffering of people here in Britain, and enormously higher than the pain of those living in other parts of the world.

Partly, this is because we don't recognise just how much we need each other - whether at a distance or even right here at home

There was a time when people didn't know that other societies existed. The world seemed much bigger - almost infinitely vast. A disease in one place had no effect across the mountains or the seas. Conflicts would remain local, rather than growing beyond local confines.

Today, if the Chinese economy is in trouble, prices change in Britain. A war in Syria causes political conflict throughout Europe. A Greek exit from the EU could wreak havoc across the continent and further.

Almost any major political or economic event - or any natural disaster anywhere - has effects that ripple throughout the world.

It becomes more and more obvious on a global scale that we are interconnected and interdependent. On a microscopic scale, we depend on the community of microorganisms that live within us and they depend on us.

We see the interdependence between non-human animals within other species.

So it is odd - and sad - that so often we resist seeing our own need for interdependence - upon and with other humans and also with the non-human life and climate systems of the Earth.
As much as we like to think we are self-sufficient individuals, we can be so much more together than we can apart.

One of the ways we need each other is in our potential to change our world for the better. At New Unity, we now engage in much of that work through our membership and participation in Citizens UK, an organisation that is dedicated to helping people and communities find their own power together.

Of course, it is not only power that we gain together when turn to interdependence rather than independence.

When we are prepared to acknowledge that we need one another, a much greater richness comes to life. Of course, there are the small and practical things: in a community of interdependent people, needs are acknowledged and then can be met. These acts might be simple and concrete - a car ride given, a computer problem solved, a dispute mediated, or food provided.

They may go deeper so that loneliness is eased, mourning is accompanied, transitions marked with solemnity and joy.

The possibilities and potential of interdependence can be difficult to imagine because - even those of us who are prepared to help others - tend still to hold in our minds the notion that we are failing if we are not self-sufficient and complete unto ourselves.

For this reason, it can be easier, paradoxically, to give than to receive. As Ralph Waldo Emerson noted “We do not quite forgive a giver. The hand that feeds us is in some danger of being bitten.” Receiving can set off the warning bells in our minds that we are failing to live up to an unrealistic and unhealthy image of self-sufficiency and independence.

So the key to our better living is to acknowledge that we can be more together than we can apart.

The key to our ability to change the world for the better is to acknowledge that we can do more together than we can apart.

Allowing ourselves to live into our limitations alone is the door to entering our greater wholeness and strength together.

May it be so.