Interdependence and the Good Society

Wednesday, July 2, 2014 - 7:46 am

Interdependence and the Good Society

As we Americans approach Independence Day — aka the Fourth of July — here’s a modest proposal. How about adding an annual INTERdependence Day to remind us of something we seem in danger of forgetting: “We’re all in this together!”

A society where that simple fact has been forgotten is not a society: it’s a nightmare.
Of course, I value independence, national and personal. But I also value collaboration because little that’s good has ever been achieved without it. And if we did not take communal responsibility for one another, where would we be? I, for one, would be utterly lost without the many people who’ve invested time, energy and love in me — and without the many generations who cared enough for the common good to invest in such things as public schools.
Here’s a poem I love that lifts up the common good, laments the ways in which we violate it, and reminds us that nature has much to teach us about interdependence and the good society:

Blackbirds
by Julie Cadwallader-Staub

I am 52 years old, and have spent
truly the better part
of my life out-of-doors
but yesterday I heard a new sound above my head
a rustling, ruffling quietness in the spring air

and when I turned my face upward
I saw a flock of blackbirds
rounding a curve I didn’t know was there
and the sound was simply all those wings
just feathers against air, against gravity
and such a beautiful winning
the whole flock taking a long, wide turn
as if of one body and one mind.

How do they do that?

Oh if we lived only in human society
with its cruelty and fear
its apathy and exhaustion
what a puny existence that would be

but instead we live and move and have our being
here, in this curving and soaring world
so that when, every now and then, mercy and tenderness triumph in our lives
and when, even more rarely, we manage to unite and move together
toward a common good,

we can think to ourselves:

ah yes, this is how it’s meant to be.

For more on the poetry of Julie Cadwallader-Staub, please see her website and check out her first published collection of poems, Face to Face.

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is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include Healing the Heart of Democracy, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

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