Interdependence as Social Justice

Whether tackling a problem like family discord, organizational dysfunction, or something as insidious as structural racism, the way we see the problem, is the problem. Rather than pointing fingers or feeling discouraged, there is power in interdependence and adopting a shared culpability and responsibility for the issue at hand.

In Stephen R. Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, we can connect the simple theory of interdependence to our broader goal for social justice. Take the example of structural racism:

  1. Dependence - “You Centered”
    The U.S. has a long history of racism in education, government, and policy. Those systems and institutions have to change in order to truly have racial equality.
  2. Independence - “I Centered”
    Racism is perpetuated on an individual basis. I personally see people for who they are so there’s nothing else I can do to promote racial equality. Everybody else needs to get themselves in order.
  3. Interdependence - “We Centered”
    As a collective, we recognize the racial stereotypes and biases that permeate individuals, systems, and institutions. Together, we work to dismantle racism on all of these levels and work toward true equality.

Notice the progression of dependence, independence, and interdependence. We can’t arrive at #3 without first understanding #1 and #2. As Covey writes, “Independence is an achievement. Interdependence is a choice only independent people can make.”

Together we know more, and only together can we ultimately do better. This is at the crux of social justice - the fact that a family, a team, and society at large can only operate on all cylinders when all members are fully included. In different ways and in different capacities, we all contribute to the problem, and we all must be a part of the solution.

We’re battling an increasingly independent society, where even our solutions are “I centered.” I’m a vegetarian. I recycle. I volunteer in my community. I am well-informed about issues in my community. I donate to campaigns and causes that I care about. And this is important! But as active citizens, we can’t stop there. The power of interdependence lies in - you guessed it! - small groups who together share responsibility in identifying problems and working toward solutions.