Have you given much thought to dependence? I’m not thinking about the contemporary problem of substance abuse. A lot of thought by a great many people has gone into that type of dependence. I mean dependence in the larger sense.
We are biological entities. That means dependence is a major component of life itself. Each one of us is dependent upon many things; the absence of just one causes death. We are absolutely dependent upon air, water, food and optimal temperature. Due to this dependence, we are constantly in the process of acquiring air, water, food, and comfortable environmental conditions, even though we give this effort little or no thought.
Due to the fact that dependence is an integral part of the process of being alive, we might say that dependence is the template within which we live. If we find it difficult to breathe, are thirsty, hungry, too hot or too cold, we pause whatever tasks we may be doing and strive to satisfy our basic biological need.
Once we have satisfied our basic requirements for life, there is psychological dependence to consider. Whether we think about it or not, humans can be lonely creatures. We have evolved to be dependent upon each other in order to survive.
Whether a person is outgoing or prefers solitude, no one person lives for very long in total isolation from her or his fellow human beings. The fact that we are social animals cannot be ignored for very long if you become stranded in adverse conditions. Nobody “makes it” on her or his own. There is no such actual entity as a completely “self-made man or woman”.
As small children, we depend on parental figures to provide basic necessities and to teach us how to survive and thrive. We wouldn’t even exist without the interaction between two other humans. If we are involuntarily deprived of human contact, we may suffer severe psychological disturbances. One of the most poignant forms of suffering is loneliness. Loneliness is a symptom of the lack of intimate contact with another person. We might say that loneliness is unsatisfied meaningful psychological dependence on others.
One can strive to achieve some sort of state of independence, but total, complete independence is probably impossible if we wish to remain alive. When we look at dependence from this basic level, we see that dependence, in and of itself, is not a problem. From this viewpoint, we can examine dependence and its companion concept, attachment.
As children, we express our dependence and attachment by using the possessive language case. We say “my mom”, “my home”, “my car”, “my money”, etc. When we claim ownership, we feel the right to use it to our own benefit. I claim ownership of my car; therefore, I can use it to travel anywhere I deem necessary to satisfy a desire to travel to. If I have a lover or significant other, I may feel he is mine to help fulfill a deeper need. Hence, I have an attachment to my car and in a different sense, an attachment to my lover.
The same is true for my lover. If his relationship to me is based mainly on the satisfaction of his needs, I will soon feel resentment grow within me. How do I balance my dependence upon another with his dependence on me? I discover that a relationship based upon need, be it for affection or as a practical helper eventually creates conflict.
Since society is a projection of ourselves it is important to see that our highly conflicted society is a reflection of the ways we have learned to deal with dependence. It seems like we are using each other to fulfill psychological needs of some sort. In the same manner as me wanting to use my lover to fulfill a desire, on the social level, my social group wants to use other social groups to achieve social advantages. This sort of activity soon creates social conflict.
Much greater minds than mine have been working on the problem of using our basic dependences in ways to enhance relationship to everyone’s mutual benefit. Due to the fact that most of us have problems dealing with personal dependence issues, it seems highly unlikely that we will enjoy a harmonious society in our own lifetimes.
That doesn’t mean we should just give up. It is in the working through our own relationships with dependence that each of us will influence the greater social sphere. Doing nothing breeds more maladjustment with dependence. This causes more conflict and dissatisfaction. This leads to the destructive cycle of fear, attachment and renunciation. Renunciation and self-sacrifice are the ways of isolation.
Accepting the reality of dependence for what it is, is the beginning of wisdom. Acceptance is also the beginning of love. Approaching the fact of dependence with love is the start of living in healthy relationship with one another.
Acceptance and love of one another is the way to most constructively satisfy our dependence upon each other.