“Independent as a hog on ice.”
That’s one of my favorite expressions from my days working in Washington. It’s a rich image. Yes, the hog is independent. He’s all by himself. Because nobody is going to come to the aid of a hog flailing around on ice, hurting themselves and not helping anybody else in the long run.
The image speaks well to the limitations of over-celebrating independence and raising it to the highest of virtues, which we see displayed in the cult of the independent genius and personal freedom at all costs. The belief that the smartest people in the room are the ones who should run the world results in parents going to outlandish extents to turn their children into the smartest people in the room. And the primacy of personal freedom can lead to a kind of toxic individualism that ignores the inevitable communal effects of personal choices.
In fact, as the great Zen teacher Suzuki Roshi pointed out, we have two sides to our nature. What he called independency and dependency. Yes, we are distinct, as represented by our name, address, genetic inheritance, personality traits. Yet we do not exist as an…