Fourth of July – what a memorable day! The United States celebrate their independence from the British crown. No taxation without representation. The Boston Tea Party, which wasn’t a party at all, set off the revolution against the British on December 16, 1773 and turned the trend in American beverages to coffee. No kidding. The Declaration of Independence, the result of a far more political thought process, is very obviously what is celebrated today with BBQs and fireworks, if not parades.
But the US are not the only country in the world to celebrate an Independence Day. There are 177 other nations around the world to do so. We know about our neighbor, Canada, of course. And if you think of colonialism, it makes it obvious that there are nations in Africa, South America, and Asia that tossed their yokes sooner or later. In Europe, Norway celebrates its independence from Denmark, as does Sweden, different dates though, and different historical reasons. It’s quite mind-blowing when you have a look at how many nations craved sovereignty after sometimes centuries under foreign political rule.
Independence is defined as “a condition of a person, nation, country, or state in which its residents and population, or some portion thereof, exercise self-government, and usually sovereignty, over the territory” (Wikipedia), “freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others” (dictionary.com), “autarchy and freedom” (macmillandictionary.com). What a huge claim! And doesn’t it make one wonder about how much of it is truly realized?
I remember that as a kid of eight years I started counting the years to my 18th birthday, the date when I’d be officially counted as grown-up in my mother country, Germany. I mixed up independence with being grown-up, of course. For I was still facing one more year of school (the German grammar school system back then had 13 grades), I was still living with my parents, I was far from earning any livelihood. I was still dependent on my parents’ purse strings (though I held a decently paying part-time job as a sales associate) and home rule, while studying for my double Master’s degree for another six years. And I only thought I had reached independence when I finally moved out shortly before my 26th birthday and started my life under my own rules.
At least I thought they were my own. But, of course, there were rules set by the people who owned the apartments in the apartment house I lived in. There were rules at the publishing house I worked for. There is an entire catalogue of rules for German journalists that define ethics, entitlements, private rights etc. When traveling, I stuck to the rules of hotels and transportation companies. And my set of independence was turned upside down when I got married and immigrated, throwing my existence in with the lot of another human being.
So, does independence really exist?
The human being is a social creature. We are not meant to live as hermits, and even those ultimately have to deal with society in one way or another. We create rules by which we can coexist in a more or less peaceful way. Independence in reality is interdependence based on a mutual understanding. It’s a contract we forge, sometimes documented by paperwork, to define the limitation of freedom to a degree that gives us room for self-realization without diminishing the same opportunity for other fellow humans living in the same context. Independence is interdependence as in networks that we enter (or leave) of our own free will. It is influence by others that is by our own choice, sometimes more, sometimes less.
In the end, I think we define whether we are independent by the degree of happiness we are able to gain through self-expression and self-realization even within sets and sets of rules often enough created by others. In this sense, I have attained a state of independence I had never dared dream of, only in the past dozen years, when I threw overboard by my own decision what had been my life so far (and I won’t claim I hadn’t been happy then). I know, I’m very much dependent on my loving husband, on my marvelously supportive friends, on people I do business with. But it’s a happy dependence or, rather, interdependence.
Fourth of July. The independence of our nation. Our own independence within our nation. I hope you have reason enough to celebrate it AND yourselves today. Happy Independence Day!