Each July, we in the U.S., celebrate Independence Day, commemorating the successful assertion of the British colonists that they had the right to choose their own economic, political, and religious affairs rather than be dictated to by the King of England. Those early perspectives on independent choice are resonant in contemporary U.S. politics in the emergence of the Tea Party, which is adamant about getting big government out of the personal affairs of citizens. Tea Partiers argue that government impedes citizens in making their own independent choices.
Dr. Sheena Iyengar, author of The Art of Choice, has studied varying perspectives about choice across cultures. In her research, Iyengar has found that compared with other cultures, the narrative in the U.S. culture is more deeply rooted in the need for independent and multiple choices in order to have a full sense of freedom. (See Iyengar’s TED-Talk on choice at https://www.ted.com/talks/sheena_iyengar_on_the_art_of_choosing).
As I reflect on Independence Day this year, the question bubbles up for me: How do we exercise choice in a nation, community, church, or family? How do we engage our independent choices in ways that also honor the right of choice-making of others? What are the spiritual dimensions of independent choice-making?
I ask these questions in light of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions regarding the choice-making extended to faith-based employers to limit the choices of their employees’ reproductive health care, and the choice-making of employers that limits employees’ participation in labor unions.
Usually as nations, communities and even as family members, we don’t tend to think of the spiritual dimension of our choices. Yet our choices offer us some spiritual opportunities for growth and healing. For each time we make choices, we have the opportunity to reflect on to what extent our choices are guided not by our notions of dependence, independence, or interdependence. Choices guided by love and connection or fear and separation.
One of my favorite adages is “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” I like this saying because it reminds me that my life is better when I live it honoring my interconnection and interdependence with others.
As children, we are completely dependent upon others. In some of our lives that was not a safe condition to be in. As teenagers, often regardless of what our childhoods were like, most of us operate with fierce independence as we are individuating from parents and become our own decision-making persons. Operating from an approach of independence, we are more likely to live in a state of power struggle with others as we seek to live as if we don’t need those with whom we are connected and in effort to make sure that we are not controlled by others.
Yet, to be fully human, I believe, calls us to understand and transform our narrative of independence into knowing with whom and how to relate interdependently. To live independent of one another and to exercise choices in ways that encroach upon and impede the choices of others ultimately also diminishes our own lives. It is in our interconnection and interdependence that we fully experience our wholeness. God is one. And so are we, one. Happy interdependence. Amen.
When you read my blog posts, please send your comments and I will be glad to respond. Peace, CJ