From the moment we are born, we understand dependence. We cannot eat, we cannot keep clean, we cannot even hold our heads upright without support. Babies address the world through a lens of personal needs: I need some milk. I need a clean diaper. I need your protection. ….I need your love.
Babies and young children are innately dependent creatures. They literally cannot survive without the nurture of those around them.
But somewhere between birth and adulthood, a magical transformation is supposed to occur, rendering the once helpless babe suddenly, strikingly—Independent.
But what does this mean?
Dictionary definitions equate independence with competence, self-control, complete lack of dependence upon anything and anyone.
Are dependence and independence really such complete opposites?
Okay….well what is independence, really?
Independence is associated with strength. Not the brute aggressive strength that leads the schoolyard bully to toss your bag across the yard, but more of a quiet, resolute confidence. Independence can be a sort of social or moral fitness, the ability to handle problems or even just ordinary situations without needing outside assistance.
In other contexts, independence means individuality. The stand-alone quality of independent strength holds true, so that independence can be about lack of influence. In a room full of Britney Spears fans, perhaps the most independent person prefers to listen to Saturday Looks Good to Me (of course you haven’t heard of this band—they’re unsigned….or ‘independent!’) Independence in this case describes a lack of emotional dependence, as the need for reassurance is replaced with self-assurance.
Often, independence is seen as synonymous with freedom. The US Declaration of Independence was intended as a statement of freedom. Children and teenagers often yearn for independence, thinking less of the responsibility and strength required, and more about the lack of limitations. The idea of individuality is taken to the extreme—it’s not enough to have time off from family, you want to live on your own, write your own rules, make your own choices.
It’s difficult to see it happening, but physical dependence is slowly traded for independence as we grow. Eventually the baby holds his head up without someone else’s support. Soon a child is standing on his own two feet, walking, spending time alone, even being left in an empty house.
As you grow up, you are trusted with more and more responsibility and given more and more freedom. Bedtime moves from 8 to 10. You’re allowed to surf the internet without a parent watching over your shoulder. You get to go to the mall with your friends and see the hot new movie at the cinema.
Often it feels like our parents are doling out privileges painstakingly slow, sadistically taunting you with the mirage of independence. It can feel like a power-trip. Are they really trying to see that I’m safe, or are they just flexing their muscles, basking in their freedom and my enslavement?
Sometimes, it’s enough to make you scream: I may be 50 pounds lighter than you and 30 years younger, but I am just as strong as you, just as wise, and just as responsible! Why can’t I be independent? ….well okay, maybe shouting isn’t the best way to prove my point, but still….
Can parents really dictate my independence? More on this issue after a little sidetrack into the wide world of….
Government and Politics (Yum.)
The idea of independence is associated with both individuals and groups. Many nations formerly ‘owned’ by other nations through standards of imperialism have fought to attain independence. In such cases, an entire group of people is asking to be independent….together.
Surely in establishing a new, ‘independent’ country, the people are planning to maintain ties with each other. They will unite as a new group, live in the same community, trade with each other, even share a government.
They are not claiming to be human islands.
An independent country is more of a closed web of dependencies within the country. And even that statement is a stretch. No country is an island (not even Iceland or Australia). Like people, countries help each other, trading goods and services, even supporting and protecting each other from common dangers. A careful read of your history texts will show that no nation would have survived without its alliances and loyalties.
A Concert of Opposition
The characters in The Tribe are the sudden unwilling recipients of total freedom, and total independence.
So it feels.
They must learn to take care of themselves, addressing all of the forgotten needs that their parents had once handled. They have to learn the hard way to be streetwise. If they’re going to survive, they need to learn to take care of themselves.
Very few characters try to make it on their own. The Tribes that the kids form are more than political alliances. They are a new construction of families. The members of a tribe depend on each other. The Mallrats would never have survived without Dal and Jack’s inventiveness, Bray’s foraging skills, Lex’s brute strength, and Amber’s strong leadership
The Mallrats strength as a tribe is based upon their understanding of their interdependence on eachother.
No one wants a drain in their Tribe. Characters who are needy without being able to give back are as wholly dependent as a baby. In many ways, Trudy was more of a problem than her baby, Brady, when she first lived with the Mallrats.
It was not healthy for her to be so dependent. She got over it, because otherwise she would not have survived. There is simply no room in Tribeworld for a liability like she was.
The kids in Tribeworld learn to survive by learning to honestly evaluate their strengths and their needs; to balance their independence against their dependencies.
The Truth About Independence
Independence is not real.
That’s right, it’s a fairy-tale.
Countries cannot be fully independent. People (even adults) cannot be fully independent.
We all have needs. Countless needs. We need food and shelter, and we need love. As there are very few hunter-carpenter-mother types out there, most of us depend on other people to help us satisfy these needs. People work to earn money to trade with specialized wish-grantors, who build our houses, harvest our food, protect our safety, even sing and dance to entertain us.
We need some things so direly that we are willing to give up certain small freedoms in return. We commit our time. We commit our energy. We commit our emotions. And in return, we are granted a thousand helping hands.
It is easy to forget the community in an age when we spend most of our time staring at text and sitting at a computer. We are so busy reading and typing that we forget that there are real people all around supporting us, even while we sit online.
But we need each other.
And even though we each grow stronger and more independent with each passing day, we are inherently dependent on each other.
Independence is like infinity. You can spend your life constantly approaching it, but you will never reach it. You are a child on the ground grasping at stars.