Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Declaration of (Non) Independence

Longtime readers of my blog know that I have spent much of this year informally interviewing Imagine! employees at all levels of the organization to get their sense of why we are here and what is important about what we do. It is my hope that with enough input we can create a new mission and set of values for Imagine! that truly reflect who we are and how we serve our community.

One word that has come up frequently in these conversations is the word “independence.” I hear that word a lot when people talk about the skills and tools we provide to the people we serve, and how they are designed to move individuals toward independence in their lives.

I am wondering if “independence” should be the goal of our services.

“But Mark,” you may be thinking. “We always talk about independence! It is written right into Imagine!’s current mission statement! It must be important!”

For me, the problem is what the word “independence” implies. I am uncomfortable with some of the implications of independent images: social isolation, loneliness, and no sense of belonging.

You may be aware of my pride in my upbringing in the Northeast Kingdom. Well, like many rural areas, there are people who are “independent” living up there. By independent, I mean loners who keep to themselves, who are self-reliant and rarely want anything to do with anybody else, and who may prefer their own company to the company of others.

Now, I don’t say that in any kind of derogatory way. On the contrary, I have always had a healthy respect and admiration for those who seem to be willing to go it alone. But the truth is most humans are social creatures. Most of us don’t want to be alone all the time.

I’d bet that when you reflect on the favorite memories of your life, you find that they always involve others – such as loved ones, friends, and family.

For most of us, the most important and interesting things that happen in life are those things we do with others.

Don’t believe me? Just ask the most interesting man in the world.

Can't see the video? Click here.

Yes, I know I just used my blog to show a seven minute commercial for Dos Equis, but I hope you get my point – the most interesting man in the world is clearly a social being. He doesn’t want to be independent. There’s not much fun or interesting about that.

So, back to our services at Imagine!. I don’t mind having one of our goals at Imagine! to be that we teach skills and provide tools that allow the individuals we serve to perform certain tasks for themselves. But the end goal of developing those new skills to do things independently should be to open new doors for more opportunities to engage in all that life has to offer. To experience new things. To meet new people and to make new friends. To spend time with the people that matter the most in as fully an inclusionary way as possible. To embrace the natural and organic inter-personal relations that come with being a citizen of this planet.

To me, that is a mission well worth striving to meet.

Then again, what do I know?


  1. How do you feel about interdependence, Mark?

    As defined by Wikipedia:

    In an interdependent relationship, participants may be emotionally, economically, ecologically and/or morally reliant on and responsible to each other. An interdependent relationship can arise between two or more cooperative autonomous participants (e.g. - co-op). Some people advocate freedom or independence as the ultimate good; others do the same with devotion to one's family, community, or society. Interdependence can be a common ground between these aspirations.

    1. Kim, I like where you went with this. I had given interdependence some consideration, and then thought that might be too presumptuous of me. Then again, what do I know. Mark