In Dependence We Thrive: A New Kind of Freedom
This Independence Day, lounging lakeside in Tahoe with friends surrounded by dozens of families all doing the same, I found myself considering the merits and downsides of the meaning of “independence,” how deeply rooted it is in our culture, how that impacts our society, our politics, and our relationships, and what that might mean for our future.
It was on July 4th in 1776, that our Founding Fathers declared independence from the United Kingdom. As a country, we take pride in our ability to stand on our own, to have created a nation in which one might work hard and, through her own individual merits, achieve the American Dream. In many ways (that I won’t get into here), that is what has and does make us great. But, can any one individual truly attribute her success to her efforts and her efforts alone? Not even our founding fathers could make such a claim.
For behind every great person, there is a village of friends, family, colleagues, mentors, teachers, and even strangers who, through various acts, large and small, provided the support needed to get that person to where they are today.
So when in our western American White Anglo Saxon Protestant culture of independence and individualism, did we start to think we had to be able to do it all, all by ourselves? Founded by extremist outcasts and pioneering rebels, was our country inevitably doomed to set aside our otherwise natural human dependency on one another as social creatures? Certainly not. In fact, the United States has gone through periods of strong community cohesion and grass roots activism that brought those living near one another together for regular participation in a wide variety of local commitments and causes - from weekly Bingo, Bowling Clubs, and religious services to social movements and protests in the '60s. So what happened? At what point did households living within the same neighborhood become so siloed? It seems to me that somewhere between the political disillusionment of the ‘70s, the individualism of the ‘90s, and the long commutes, grueling work ethic, always online lifestyle, not-so-social “social” media, and agnosticism of the new millennium, we have individualized our leisure time and lost our “village” way of living in close commune with those around us (for those interested in diving deeper into this topic, I highly recommended Robert Putnam's book Bowling Alone, a study of the decline in cohesion and trust in American communities since the '50s and '60s).
Proximity - who lives next door - means almost nothing in our current mapping of who we regularly interact with and rely on. Annual Pew surveys suggest that Americans know less and less about their neighbors, a change from the mid-20th century when most people knew at least the names of those living near them. It's true, however, that many of those neighborhoods and groups were more homogenous and that diversity has played a role in the disruption of cohesion and trust at a local and national level, but that is no excuse for this trend to continue. I fully hope (and expect) that, with time and out of compassion and understanding, this country's reality will socially, culturally, and politically evolve to once again reflect its promise of acceptance, equality, and opportunity for all - regardless of our differences.
Our modern reality of individualism and loneliness aside, the fact remains: People are inherently social, and no one, not a single person, is better equipped to tackle life’s challenges and celebrate its joys alone than in the company of others.
Earlier this year I founded Allo to rethink how we might better connect online based on shared experiences, needs, and proximity to facilitate and reinforce more meaningful interactions offline. (The name, Allo, btw, for those who are curious, stems from the concept of “alloparenting” or care provided for a child by those not related to that child. The notion that powerful support can and should come from the community beyond one’s immediate family). We’ve now built an app (available for download here) through which friends and neighbors living near one another can better respond to each other’s needs and random ad hoc favor requests. By bringing people together in more meaningful ways, we aim to strengthen our local support networks and reintroduce a more “village-like” way of living.
By Catherine Hrdy, Founder & CEO, Allo