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No. I didn’t misspell the title of the post. But thank you for noticing. In fact, now that you’re here, go ahead and scan the rest of the article and see if you can find anything else that causes you to do a double-take!

The word independence has been on my mind a lot lately.

The seed for this blog was planted several years ago as Chris and I were becoming empty nesters. At that time I was considering what it meant to raise children to be self-sufficient productive young adults, and more importantly, off the household payroll.

The idea of independence overtook my thoughts again recently as I thought about what living independently means as we age. In preparation for a recent panel on “The Truth About Independent Living Options” at the Senior Living Truth Series, I found myself grappling with how to best help an over 65 crowd understand and conceptualize what it meant to move into an independent senior living community.

Naturally, it all came together for me recently on the 4th of July, when everywhere I looked I saw representations of our country’s Independence Day celebration of freedom. I couldn’t help but notice the many people proudly wearing shirts, shorts, and caps with varying designs of the American flag — most likely all made in China — and wonder if they had even taken a moment to consider what they were really celebrating.

What is independence, really?

According to the Googler, this is the definition of the word independence.

You can also look up the word “independent” for which you will find at least 17 different descriptors under the adjective. Most of these say basically the same thing, but your own understanding of it is the real key here.

What I believe about independent living…

Despite what the dictionary says, I contend that as individuals we all rely on each other to some degree in virtually every area of our lives. Thus, there is no such thing as living independently.

Case in point…

Personally, I rely on others (some paid and others not) for moral and emotional support at least a few times a week. They help me think more clearly, work through tough issues, and give me strength and encouragement when I need it most.

I also rely on others for services. Thank goodness for people who know how to fix things like appliances, computers, furniture, cars, and other items for which I have become reliant. Oh, and let’s not forget that someone manufactured, packaged, shipped, and sold me those items to begin with. The same goes for food. I certainly don’t grow my own produce, raise my own livestock, or brew my own beer.

When I am sick or have an accident requiring more than a Bandaid, I seek medical help. Here, doctors, nurses, and an array of other skillful people help me to feel better. And then, of course, there are the people who supply me with little things like ibuprofen and sunscreen — two daily staples that I would be lost without. Yes — I rely on others for my health and wellbeing.

We live in a condo. It provides us with shelter from the weather, climate control, and a place to prepare our food, etc. I didn’t build it. Someone else built it — several some one else’s in fact.

Lastly, beyond just my personal day-to-day needs and wants, I recognize that many of the things that I have in my life are provided by people who I will never meet from places I will likely never even visit. Our world is actually very small. International shipments are delivered each and every day by boat and by plane. This global economy on which we all rely is just one more indication that we are not independent.

Independent thinking creates problems

It seems to me that trying to be independent creates more problems than it does value. In fact, independent living it’s a flat out lie that we have bought into and that we tell ourselves is true. It is something we have made up and worse yet, we celebrate it.

I believe that at some level it’s this goal of living independently that perpetuates an ever-present feeling of failure from the time we are young adults throughout old age. It is also a belief that serves to keep us separate — it paints a picture of us vs. them, when in reality we need each other and rely on each other for so much.

Let’s face it — We are interdependent!

While independence seems like a grand ideal and one worthy of admiration and celebration, we are not independent — we are completely and totally interdependent. Yes, we may have certain freedoms (a different construct altogether) and we as Americans may have the ability to assert those freedoms, but having freedom isn’t the same as living independently.

Freedom from tyranny and having personal rights to do or not do something is one thing — to make choices. It is not the same as independence, however, so let’s not confuse the two.

What would happen if we used our freedom to embrace interdependence?

I can tell you that had I grasped this reality in my younger years I would have taught my children differently. I would have helped them to see the value in partnering and collaborating with others instead of asserting, “You can do it yourself. You don’t need help.”

I would also likely be less of a self-described control freak and a better leader if I had realized earlier that we need each other to make a bigger impact and positive difference in the lives of others.

I also think that aging would be much easier on people if we adopted the idea of interdependence as an ideal instead of insisting that we don’t need help and that by asking for it we are somehow weak, frail, or incapable. Even the idea of calling senior communities “independent living” is ridiculous. The entire reason people move there is because they need a little support (or expect it sometime in the future).

What’s the saying? You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. Let’s call it interdependent living!

I watch people each and every day try to do things themselves (especially in their later years) instead of just asking for a little help.

Pride. Ego. Sweet Independence. 

Side note: Don’t get me wrong, I am not a fan of being entitled either. Letting people do it all for you because you think that you deserve it or that you are entitled to it (at the expense of others) is not what I am talking about here. True interdependence is about reciprocating. It’s about contributing where and when you are able and receiving contributions from others too (throughout your lifetime). It’s an “us” mentality. It’s teamwork at its finest.

Celebrate Interdependence!

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Nikki Buckelew

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