Independence. It's been on my mind lately, but not the kind of independence we celebrated this weekend.
I don't remember the article I read that got my mind cranking, but the cranking meshed with other things I've read and with personal experiences with loved ones. It was all about class -- our nation's economic classes and the cultures and values of the different groups.
The middle-to-upper classes, it seems, place a high value on independence. The ability to stand on one's own two feet, to take care of oneself. So they see education as important -- you need a degree to get a good job that will support yourself and your family. Money management is important -- you sacrifice and save money so that when an emergency happens, you have the resources to handle it, and so that when you're old and can't work anymore, you have resources to live on.
The poor, on the other hand -- the poverty class -- seem to place a higher value on interdependence. We take care of each other; we can rely on each other. When you need a place to stay, you can sleep on my couch as long as you need. I can drive you to work tomorrow, or you can borrow my car. Your kids can hang out at my house after school until you get home. I'll help you today because the day will come when I'll need someone to help me.
Of course, human nature being what it is, there are those in both cultures that warp these values into something sinful. There are people of means who become selfish and greedy and isolated in their independence, hoarding their resources to meet not only their needs but their luxurious desires. There are also poor people who take advantage of the generosity of others and become irresponsible, selfish moochers. Selfishness is no respecter of persons.
People from each class often see the sinful in the other and color the whole group with that color -- which results in their moving even further to the extreme of their own end of the spectrum. "See that free-loader? This is why you have to save your money. (And why we need to toughen the welfare system.)" Or conversely: "See that greedy rich man with the huge bank account? Money isn't as important as people are. I'd rather be poor and surrounded by people I love than rich and lonely. Come on; I just got paid -- let's spend it all on a fun weekend together."
We forget that this is not an either-or situation. It's a both-and situation. We need to be both independent and interdependent. They are not mutually exclusive, even though we think they are.
We have things to learn from each other. The poverty class can learn that sometimes, you need to pay attention that the way you help a friend in need is empowering them rather than enabling them. They can learn that sacrificing to save a little at a time not only means they have resources that keep them from needing to rely on others unnecessarily, but also gives them more resources to share. (Everyone "must work, doing something useful with their hands, that they may have something to share with those in need." Eph 4:28)
The upper-middle class can learn that sometimes you endure the inconvenience and the risk and simply give just because there is a need -- no strings attached, no judgments rendered -- and let God sort out the deserving and undeserving. They can learn that it's okay for us to lean on each other. That's how God made humanity: a body with interdependent parts. And they can learn that money is a tool, a tool to be used to build God's kingdom, not our own. (Jesus said, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you." Matt 6:33)
I'm talking big-picture here, so don't yell at me about individual situations that don't fit this characterization. I just find that I'm learning much from those in my life that come from the other end of the spectrum . . . and I hope they're learning from me as well.