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Dependence and Independence

Thou must be true thyself if thou the truth wouldst teach,
Thy soul must overflow if thou another's soul wouldst reach;
It needs the overflow of heart to give the lips full speech.
Think truly, and thy thoughts shall the world's famine feed;
Speak truly, and each word of thine shall be a fruitful seed;
Live truly, and thy life shall be a great and noble creed.
—Emerson
Eat thou the bread which men refuse,
Flee from the goods that flee from thee,
Seek nothing! Fortune seeketh thee.
—Emerson

It will usually be found that somewhere between two extremes, or even two contradictions, will lie the simple truth. Take, for instance, some of the truths, the two seemingly opposing sides of which have now and again rent Christendom. Some great souls have believed God determined from all eternity whatsoever should come to pass, down to the minutest detail. They left no room for the slightest exercise of choice or free will; man was reduced to the place of a puppet. To other great souls this seemed a monstrous belief, and they taught and fought and died for the truth that man was a free agent, and could do with his life what he willed. It was argued that both could not be right, and so those who saw the reasonableness of one point of view spent an immense amount of time and energy trying to convince or refute the adherents of the other, and little was ever accomplished by it. But that is just the kernel of the whole matter. Fundamentally both are right. That is, everything is determined by eternal law to the extent that every step of the soul's unfoldment is written indelibly in the constitution of all things; the great truth of the freedom of man's will comes in at the parting of the ways of life and death. Both lead to the same ultimate goal, but there is a world of difference for those who choose. Man is perfectly free to choose for himself a life—many lifetimes, indeed—of sorrow and suffering, or to place himself in harmony with the great current of Universal Being, and "so fulfill the law of life" and know the truth that shall make him free. In this way he himself becomes a part of the great freedom of all life. Again, in the instance of the Unitarian and the Trinitarian—these are but two sides of a single truth. There is but one central source of all life, and yet we read that God said: "Let us make man in our own image," and "male and female created he them." From the earliest days the trinity of the mother, father, and child have been the symbol of creative power. Six thousand years before Christ, when Egyptian civilization was at its height, this was the recognized symbol of the thinking world, and yet it was not until considerably after the Christian era that the symbol was confused with the truth symbolized. Both are true. The truth is too great for any symbol to hold in its entirety. So many false beliefs cluster about a symboled truth. It becomes overgrown and almost lost sight of. So we should accustom ourselves to take a broad and comprehensive view of each thing that life presents to us—take an all-around view, and try to see all that is to be seen. It is when we see but partially that we are unjust, and want to coerce others. There is nothing separately and absolutely true. All is relative— all dependent in a way. Now let us first talk of dependence in its broadest sense. It is not the positive side of the one great truth, but there is much in it that repays consideration. It is true that extremes meet. Consider the effect of extreme heat and extreme cold. They are practically the same—both cause disintegration of matter. The study of dependence is, in a sense, the study of independence also. We are all dependent, to some extent, not only upon environment, but upon every one with whom we come in touch. It is not possible for two people to meet and talk for five minutes without each influencing the life of the other. Sometimes the mutual gain or injury is apparent. Sometimes it does not appear on the surface at all, or not until years afterward. Sometimes one seems to do all the giving, and the other to receive only. But this is only seeming. Anything that does not belong to us cannot stay with us, and what is really ours no one can take from us. This law is applicable to everything—material possessions, friendship, love. We enter into a possession of many things that are not ours. This possession is only seeming, and the law is never transgressed, either by him who gives or him who receives. Now what does dependence mean—what does "living on others" mean? Take the example of a tree and a parasitic vine. At first both seem to be doing very well, but by and by the vitality of even the largest and strongest tree is sapped, and not only does it die, but the parasite also dies in consequence. In depending unduly on another, one, sooner or later, destroys his own life. So those who would give no equivalent for what they receive really hurt and deprive themselves. It is not the amount we give—this has nothing to do with the matter—it is the motive that prompts the giving. We may be able to do or to be or to give very little that is tangible or even recognizable, but if our motives, our earnest endeavor and intention is to do our best, then the great law of poise and balance and compensation will see to it that there is no lack. We can give of ourselves—of good will from the heart—and no matter what form this may take, it is, perhaps, the highest gift of all. Once while I was traveling in the South a friend called my attention to a fig-tree, and asked me if I noticed anything peculiar about the bark. I looked closely, and saw something that seemed to be a little scab. Under a magnifying-glass it was seen to be a tiny parasite, and on closer examination I saw a still smaller parasite feeding, living, on this other. Many people live just in this way—on the vitality of others. Now this is just as dishonest as if they picked the other's pocket or stole his bread. Dependents of this character are only making similar conditions for themselves, for like always begets like. This course has nothing to do with the true interdependence—the relationship of one to another throughout the great human family that proves us "members one of another." It is not essential that the giving and receiving should be invariably between the same people—that is, that we should always see to it that we give an exact proportion to exactly the people from whom we believe we have received a benefit. This is not always possible, nor even desirable. We may have received a benefit from someone to whom nothing that we have to give would be of any service. Leave personality out of the question. "From every man according to his ability; to every man according to his needs." Let us give of our best—of our very selves— constantly, ungrudgingly, wherever there is a need, and we may then be very sure that no more will come to us than is ours by right.

If every man were given, not bread, but a chance to work, it would transform the face of the earth, and bring about the true dependence which is the coming of the kingdom of God. But, one may say, "What influence have I upon economic conditions, what responsibility have I in bringing this about?" We each have this responsibility: to inform ourselves fully and fearlessly of the facts, and hold resolutely the right mental attitude toward the problem. We may not be able apparently to change outward conditions, but by and by, if the mind of each, and so, of the majority, is on the right side, we will find that wondrous force we call "public sentiment" doing what each of us would have done if only he had been able. This is a greater force than any law on any statute-book.

In the matter of sympathy and good will, there is often just the same abuse of the great law of giving and receiving. We offer a maudlin pity that degrades the receiver and weakens the giver. In this way we put ourselves on the plane with the weakest, and so make it impossible to be of any real service to him. We can never help a man to be better and stronger by talking and condoling with him as to his weaknesses.

We can never call out the good in another by dwelling on the evil. Think of him as good, and this makes it the easier for him to realize your thought of him. Wherever there is the true giving there is no need to consider the matter of receiving. It takes care of itself. Only this, when things come—whether material or immaterial—do not let the spirit of pride prevent the benefit that comes from generous receiving. You hear someone say: "But I don't want to be dependent; I love to give, but I don't like to be under obligations." Now this is all wrong. Give others an opportunity to feel the joy of giving. We are not keeping the law in poise and balance if we want to do all the giving. It is as bad as the other extreme of withholding when another needs. We often give most truly by receiving, and we keep only as we give freely away. "He that loseth his life shall find it."

There are many phases of independence. Some people think that brutal frankness is independence. They believe that speaking out whatever is in their minds, or anything that is true, without any other consideration, proves them independent. Now, any inconsiderateness or unkindness cannot fail to hurt another, and whatever hurts another must hurt ourselves as well. It is impossible to affect another for either good or evil without ourselves being influenced in the same way and to the same extent. We do not need to tell unkind things of another, even if they are facts, in order to prove our own truthfulness. We do not need to say that we are truthful. Our lives will stand for that. A true independence would be as kind as it is strong. No matter what the words spoken, the motive prompting them would somehow find expression. If one has the good of a person at heart this will make itself felt, and the word spoken in gentleness leaves the deepest impress. Then as to that class of actions called independent. Often when one person, justly or unjustly, feels he has cause to dislike another, he will scorn any overture from that other. He may "forgive" him, but he will not want to accept any favor from him. Now just stop and think what this means—he is standing in the way of that individual's doing something that would make his life better. He feels he has hurt the other, and wants to do something to show his change of attitude and to make reparation. The person injured spurns that effort, and thereby hinders his own growth and development as well as that of the other. Now this is not independence, but short-sighted obstinacy, pride, and arrogance. True independence, as I understand it, is this: the knowledge that in life all acts react, none can separate himself, but all contribute, each to the other's good, and all to the good of the whole. The true independence is where each would scorn to do less than his best, to give less than his real self, and so the best and the truest comes back to each. This does not mean that all relationship with one's fellows are on a level—that there are no close, warm, personal ties of sympathy and friendship. Even with near friends there are degrees of friendship. We can love all, and yet love some more than others. John, because he had unfolded more to the love principle, could best understand Jesus, and so came into closest companionship with Him. I can conceive of nothing so much to be desired in this world—or any other—as that we love all our fellow men. Not that we love our friends only, or those that love us, but that, without exception and without effort, we love all. There will always be some that are closest, but if we live from the center, if we live out our true, our deepest selves, there is no reason why the spirit of love should not bring us in touch with all. It is not the love that comes to us, but that which we give out that really enriches our lives. If I could love everybody and everything in this world, it would seem to me I had achieved the grandest, the highest, and most wonderful thing of all life. If this is true, then, is not the life of true independence the life of service, of benefit to others, of answering to their needs? "Give to him that asketh of thee; and of him that would borrow of thee, turn not thou away." Let the demand come from wherever it will—it does not matter. From relatives or from strangers—it should be all the same with us in our giving—wherever there is a genuine need, there we should give. This is the plan of life—only as we give out will more come into our lives. You know when you exhale the breath thoroughly, the air rushes back into the lungs again without stint. The effort is in the exhaling, there is none required in the inhaling. So in our lives we must put forth the effort in our actions—in the outgoing— and the return will be without fail. This illustrates the truth that God is more willing to give than we are to receive. This does not mean a personal God, who is at times benign and gracious, and at times indifferent or implacable, but the Law of Love, which is the undying power of the Universe. In the true interdependence there lies the life of perfect freedom. There is nothing contradictory in dependence and independence; in the balance of both lies the truth, and those who poise their lives between the two extremes are giving real service to the world.

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Charles Brodie Patterson

  • Canadian New Thought author
  • Born in Nova Scotia in 1854 and died on June, 22nd 1917
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