We live in a society that places an incredibly high value on personal ability. We are taught from a young age to be independent, to control the controllables, to format our lives so that we only truly rely on ourselves. Especially as college students, working anxiously to prepare ourselves for life post-graduation, we strive to become survivors, men and women who can succeed of their own volition because placing your fate in someone else’s hands is a risk.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Independence gives us the ability to test our own limits, to learn how capable we truly are. But it’s easy to forget that there is also value in community, in standing together, in leaning on others for support and giving yours in return.
At some point, we’ve begun to societally equate independence with isolation, strength with the ability to need no one outside of ourselves. We idolize the “self-made man,” and we’ve turned life into a competition of who needs the least help — in classes, at work, in relationships. We look down on those who are handed opportunities and ostracize those who seek extra help.
A few weeks ago, one of my closest friends shared with me a quote by author and spiritual leader Ram Dass that read, “We are all just walking each other home.” As someone who is fiercely independent herself, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the idea behind these few short words.
We are all just walking each other home. Amid national and global turmoil, amid elections, amid competitions for grades, for jobs, for approval, this quote serves as a reminder that we are all walking the same path. We are traveling through life together, experiencing the same events from myriad perspectives, facing decisions that affect more than simply our own lives.
Given the opportunity, I have always chosen to stand on my own two feet rather than rely on others for help, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but leaning on others does not make you weak – it makes you human, and strength can be found in unity as much as in independence.
We live in a world in turmoil. Monday, a man on an Ohio campus drove his truck into a group of students then ran among them, stabbing 11. Tuesday, the New York Times reported that ISIS has dug another mass grave in Iraq, and even as I write this, the police scanner that sits on the desk beside mine screams news of a girl being held hostage. 2016 has been compared to a dumpster fire where violence, chaos and destruction has become commonplace, and in this time of extreme, global turmoil, it is more important than ever to band together, to unite and lean on one another for support, because we truly have no idea what will come with the next sunrise.
We live in a society that values independence more highly than almost any other ideological tenet, but we’ve lost sight of the strength and comfort found in togetherness, in sharing suffering, pain and the burden of life. Independence does not have to mean isolation.
After all, at the end of the day, we’re all just walking each other home.