I’d like to pass along some wisdom regarding our American love affair with what we call rugged individualism. The first two people quoted are activist clergymen, the other three are sophisticated therapists.
William Sloane Coffin: Many of us overvalue autonomy, the strength to stand alone, and the capacity to act independently. Far too few of us pay attention to the virtues of interdependence, especially the capacity to be vulnerable. Learning, and especially unlearning, can only take place in the absence of defensiveness. When we drop our defenses, we can learn. And we can drop our defenses only when we love and are loved. It is love that measures our stature – the more we love, the bigger we are. There is no smaller package in the world than that of a man all wrapped up in himself.
Bill McKibben: The emergent science of ecology is easily summed up: Everything is connected. But interconnection is anathema to a consumer notion of the world, where each of us is useful precisely to the degree that we consider ourselves to be the center of everything.
Terry Real: The notion of growth versus connection has been junked in favor of growth-in-connection, e.g. relational psychology. It is an outmoded patriarchal idea that boys develop by retreating from connection into autonomy. Development doesn’t require us to separate from relationships in order to grow into autonomy, but rather we must transform immature relationships into mature ones. As children develop, the family must accommodate their increased mastery over themselves and the world. Parents must change, not “let go”. The idea that children must “leave” and mothers must “back off” for children, especially boys, to individuate has no basis in truth or science. This is simply the age-old idea of male heroism vs connection dressed up in a lab coat and clipboard. Humans mature in the context of relationship.
Martha Stout: East Asia has a remarkably low prevalence of antisocial personality disorder (sociopathy), especially compared to the U.S. From the Wild West of the past to the corporate outlaws of the present, American society seems to allow and even encourage me-first attitudes. Our society is moving in the direction of permitting, reinforcing, and even valuing some of the traits listed on the Psychopathy Checklist: impulsivity, irresponsibility, narcissism, and lack of remorse. Psychology has been traditionally more interested in such things as strengthening interpersonal boundaries and assertiveness training than in love, compassion, or interpersonal justice.
Monica McGoldrick: Maturity depends on seeing past the myopic myths of autonomy and self-determination to appreciate our basic interdependence on each other and on nature, and to consider other people and future generations when evaluating socio-political issues such as the environment and human rights. Differentiation is to remain in connection with each member of your family while maintaining your own beliefs and values. Cutoffs are not good for your health.