Understanding Independence

Understanding Independence

The ecological crises, market fluctuations of one corner affecting the other corners of the world, are making the development-seeking, individualistic humans conscious of inter-connectedness, inter-dependence and synergy. They prove the famous butter-fly effect, which speaks of the flapping of the butterfly in one corner creating ripples in the farthest places of the world. Playing on the spelling of the word would help us to understand the authentic meaning of the word independence, the word combinations being independence and in-dependence. The combination of dependence and independence is normally termed as inter-dependence or, in Panikkarean terms, as inter-independence. A term that is very much used in the industrial circle is Synergy, which echoes this spirit.

Such an analysis of the term helps us to go against the dualistic tendency to see ‘I’ against the other. When I speak of independence as absolute freedom, it is positing me against the other. If I speak of in-dependence, it is positing me under the other. Beyond those extremes, lies the truth as Buddha or Aristotle would say. Jesus speaks of truth that sets us free. So freedom, in the absolute sense (that I can do anything), is not what he hints at, but a freedom to live my life to the fullest and to experience joy and meaning.

An understanding of independence as absolute freedom is seeing that as end in itself, whereas the ideas of inter-dependence/synergy promotes it as a means for achieving greater ends like peace, meaning in human life or productivity in industrial/community set-up. In the past, we had great individual geniuses in the scientific field, but today, we have such geniuses working in large research teams. A post-modern and post-truth world affirms individualism and science are promoting synergy. A strange coincidence. Synergy is not the destruction of individual freedom and creativity, but synthesizing different energies, ideas and intuitions in a dynamic manner to attain greater fruitfulness and understanding. For a true/false logician, synergy could be a heresy as it is both independent and in-dependent at the same time; it is a combination, where the identities of the contributing members are preserved, but whose identities evolve in interaction with the other.

This deeper understanding of independence is the crux of dialogue, be it science-religion, inter-religious or inter-cultural. An authentic dialogue, though very difficult, is not proselytizing, but an opportunity to enrich and to be enriched. When this is easily said, it becomes really difficult, as the starting point is a deep-felt conviction of the strengths and limitations of one’s own position along with an openness towards the process.

Another layer of meaning could be understood from the perspective of Ignatian Spirituality. The desires are very much valued here. God speaks through our desires. James Martin, SJ would say ‘our deepest desires are God’s desires’. Thus, independence could be understood as the absolute freedom to follow those deepest desires (well discerned), which are surely God-centered and for the well-being of the entire creation.

As we look at the major tragedies of the world today such as violence, religious fundamentalism, dictatorial governments, inequality between the rich and the poor, we could sense the influence of a faulty understanding of independence. An alternative narrative which includes inter-independence as part of independence can help us to bring peace, justice and overall development. From my limited understanding, I think the best and the most powerful example for a proper understanding of independence could be seen in the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.


Arun SJ