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Happy Interdependence Day!

Yesterday was the Fourth of July, but since I’m outside the U.S., there were no celebrations, no fireworks for me. I watched a movie that had fireworks in it, just to get to see some.

Where I am, the Azores islands, belong to Portugal, and Portugal has its own Independence Day – the first of December. That holiday goes back to 1640, when Portugal separated from Spain. So the first of December, I guess I’ll finally get to see real fireworks.

Turns out no less than 163 countries celebrate Independence Day in some form. The oldest celebration is in Switzerland, which broke from the Holy Roman Empire in the year 1291. Just like in the U.S., the Swiss display flags and shoot off fireworks – but on August 1, not July 4.

Burundi, the Congo and Rwanda commemorate freedom from Belgian rule on June 30 or July 1. Belgium, in turn, celebrates its independence from the Netherlands three weeks later. And in the Netherlands, they’ve been partying on the fifth of May every year since they broke from Nazi Germany – they call it Liberation Day.

Even North Korea celebrates its own Independence Day, which goes to show independence doesn’t necessarily mean freedom.

I, too, have my own personal Independence Day: April 11, the day I left Reevis Mountain School after living there six years.

Everybody has their own Independence Days – maybe the day you graduated from high school or moved out of your parents’ house, or got your first job. Your birthday is an Independence Day too, in a way.

Living at Reevis gave me new appreciation for independence, but also for interdependence. If you don’t know about Reevis, it’s a 12-acre farm, a kind of homestead, located south of Roosevelt Lake, deep in the Tonto National Forest, at the edge of the Superstition Wilderness. Peter “Bigfoot” Busnack founded it back in 1980, partly out of fears about where the world was headed.

For over 40 years, Peter has been living there, growing his own food, teaching survival classes. and living life his way. The full name of the farm is Reevis Mountain School of Self-Reliance, and the idea was self-reliance makes freedom and safety possible: If you don’t need anyone else, you can pretty much do whatever you want, and it doesn’t matter so much what they do. You’re separate, and free, and safe.

The thing is, though, in reality, Reevis sits at the center of a network of hundreds of people who ensure it can continue to exist. People who buy the farm’s produce or come to classes, people who donate money, or do volunteer work at the farm, or support the school through its legal framework, as well as the county or other entities helping maintain the road, neighbors who look out for Peter the way neighbors do, and on and on.

For a place that’s all about self-reliance, the farm needs, and gets, a lot of help.

And I don’t mean that in a snarky way. What I mean is, one of the best things I learned from living at Reevis was that independence doesn’t even exist. When you look for it, what you get instead is the absolute opposite, interdependence.

And lo and behold, it doesn’t mean you lose freedom, dignity, or safety. In reality, it turns out interdependence is where freedom, dignity, and safety come from.

Reevis and Peter Bigfoot aren’t the only ones who depend on a whole network of others – we all do.

On the other hand, the business guru Stephen Covey wrote, “Effective interdependence can only be built on true independence.”

Covey was the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the business book that has sold something like 25 million copies and influenced generations of business leaders.

Covey said, “Dependent people need others to get what they want. Independent people can get what they want through their own effort. Interdependent people combine their own efforts with the efforts of others to achieve their greatest success.”

America would never even have achieved independence without plenty of interdependence. The revolutionaries got essential help from the French, including weapons and supplies at the beginning of the war. Later, France sent its navy to fight British ships off the American coast, and French soldiers reinforced the Continental Army at the decisive battle in Yorktown.

Spain sent supplies, too, and declared war on England on their own hook, attacking the British in the south.

The Netherlands helped by loaning money to the nascent United States. Russia, Norway, Denmark, and even Portugal took the Americans’ side.

That’s why I propose that along with Independence Day, we also celebrate Interdependence Day. It could be on July 3 or July 5, since independence and interdependence are so closely related.

The new holiday would remind everyone you can’t really have one without the other. It would be a chance to recognize and celebrate all the people who help us be who we want to be and live how we want to live.

Another plus? More fireworks.

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