Did you ever wonder how much your feelings, thoughts, wants and needs depend on the feelings, thoughts, wants and needs of other people?
Did you ever consider that any change in a feeling, thought and desire of yours is dependent on, and influential upon, the feelings, thoughts and desires of every single other person in the world?
Also, are you aware of how far-reaching are the implications of such interdependence?
Do you know how to navigate the interdependent reality we live in today?
We grow up in a world that instills us with competitive, individualistic values. Our educational systems and our culture teach us how to develop as independent individuals, where the more you can be “stronger, richer and faster” than others, the more you will succeed. Such an approach was arguably suitable for a certain period in history, but as we develop into a new era marked by tightening global interdependence—from the immense exponential human population growth to the worldwide interconnection of our economies, technologies and cultures—the more we see that a competitive, individualistic approach in an interdependent reality leads to crises on all scales: personal, social, global and ecological.
Interdependence: How You Depend on Everyone & Everyone on You was created as a guide on how to master living in the modern world: to realize the error of continuing along the same competitive, individualistic lines we’ve taken till today, and to awaken a globally considerate, cooperative, collaborative and connected modus operandi heading into the future. As we will see in this guide, the paradigm shift from a competitive, individualistic approach to a cooperative, interdependent one is incumbent on us as humans today not just for our happiness and well-being, but also for our very survival.
This guide has 14,500+ words, which will take about 1 hour and 20 minutes to read. We have made this guide available in the following formats so that you can go through it in a way that best suits you: PDF eBook
Interdependence is about life.
It’s about the big changes shaking our world,
Depression, stress, drug abuse, divorce, suicide, crime, terror, war, poverty, social anxiety, food insecurity, unemployment, economic inequality, pollution, waste, natural disasters, climate change… the more we upgrade our technologies and policies, the overarching trend is one of decline.
This raises a lot of questions. It awakens uncertainty about where we are, where we’re headed, and what, if anything, can be done to impact a positive shift heading into the future.
Interdependence aims to find answers to these questions.
Interdependence examines what it means to live in today’s world. It aims to clarify our nature, motivations, emotions and feelings as part of today’s changing conditions.
But most importantly, Interdependence aims to answer:
How should we deal with all kinds of people, at home, at school, at work, on the streets, at parks, in malls, at concerts, sporting events, restaurants, with family and friends, on the Internet, and build a better situation: where we can feel happy, comfortable, confident and secure?
Also, Interdependence aims to answer why this tougher situation we’re in today places us at a crossroad: either we continue along the same decline, or change direction to an incline.
Either we continue trying to deal with increasing amounts of problems using all kinds of temporary band-aid solutions, and continue bearing witness to global deterioration. Or, we use today’s accumulation of difficulties as a means to revise the way we approach everything: to seek deeper causes behind problems, and their solutions.
The way Interdependence aims to answer these questions is through a prism, summarizing:
- Causes of the world’s problems: personal, social, global, economic and ecological.
- Conditions of a perfect world.
- Solutions to the world’s problems: What’s needed to shift from world crisis to world harmony?
Here’s how this prism looks:
Causes of the world’s problems: personal, social, global, economic and ecological
Conditions of a perfect world
Solutions to the world’s problems: What’s needed to shift from world crisis to world harmony?
Table of Contents
– What Is Interdependence?
i. Appreciate the Scope of Global Interdependence
– Exercise: Awareness of Your Dependence on People Worldwide
ii. The Interdependence of Your Thoughts and Feelings
iii. The Evolution of Interdependence
iv. Interdependence in Nature
v. Interdependence in Nature and Humans
– Interdependence Summary
– Interdependence – Takeaways
6. Social Influence Part 2: Connection/Collaboration/Cooperation/Contribution
– The Implications of Social Influence Example: The Asch Experiment
– Exercise: Your Opinion vs. Your Friends’ Opinions on a Film
– Examples: Banksy’s Social Experiment, Joshua Bell’s Subway Experiment, and the Kanye West Air Bag
– This Is What Our Society Values
– Social Influence Part 2: Connection/Collaboration/Cooperation/Contribution – Takeaways
How much are you connected to other people?
Happiness, sadness, anger, depression, feeling good or bad… how much are these feelings outcomes of being connected to other people?
How much are your feelings outcomes of being connected to people you don’t know?
Can you be happy and successful by being detached from other people?
What does it even mean to be happy and successful? Are your ideas, examples, visions and dreams of what it means to be happy and successful intrinsically tied to society?
Education and parenting is largely focused on how to find your individual and independent way in life.
Our interdependence—the situation we’re constantly dealing with—is mostly an untouched subject.
Therefore, instead of learning how to become happy and successful people in this interdependent society we’re parts of, we learn how to struggle and compete as “independent individuals,” and to be parts of a system of struggle and competition.
As humanity’s population exponentially increases at rates far beyond what we’ve ever experienced before, and as many of the world’s systems stress under the strain of our fast-growing global interdependence, we need to ask ourselves some serious questions heading into the future…
Human Population Growth
What Is Interdependence?
Interdependence means that everybody and everything is intertwined as a single system.
It means that every action you make, even every thought and feeling you have, exerts its influence on this system.
Likewise, interdependence also means that every action, thought and feeling of every person is influencing everybody simultaneously.
So, interdependence has enormous implications.
1. Appreciate the Scope of Global Interdependence
To appreciate the wide scope of global interdependence, first take this interdependence exercise:
- What country was the screen you’re looking at now made in?
- The last car you saw. What country was it made in? What countries were all its parts made in?
- The oil that’s in cars, buses, trains, planes, tires, water pipes, refrigerators, heaters, phones, toilet seats, clothes driers, toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap and food preservatives. What countries is all that oil from?
- Your clothes. What countries are your clothes from?
- Your coffee…
Exercise: Awareness of Your Dependence on People Worldwide
Without leaving your room, you’re being influenced by the whole world.
However, interdependence is not just about acknowledging countries where things are made. Interdependence is also not just easy communication with people worldwide.
What’s the big deal with interdependence then?
2. The Interdependence of Your Thoughts and Feelings
We are not only interdependent among our countries, cultures, technologies, communications, economies and industries.
Our interdependence extends to our thoughts and feelings.
To see how we are interdependent in our thoughts and feelings, let’s look at this example from neuroscience:
Neuroscience presents a certain aspect of interdependence in our thoughts and feelings through its findings on mirror neurons.
Mirror neurons are certain sets of neurons that fire when we do, see or imagine different kinds of activities. Therefore, when we see or imagine people doing some activity, we sense that activity’s touches and pains. As neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran, advocator of the importance of mirror neurons, states:
“[Mirror neurons] are neurons which fire when I reach out and grab a peanut, another set of neurons which fire when I reach out and pull a lever, other neurons when I’m pushing something, other neurons when I’m hitting something. These are regular motor command neurons, orchestrating a sequence of muscle twitches that allow me to reach out and grab something or do some other action.
“A subset of these neurons also fire when I simply watch another person—watch you reach out and do exactly the same action. So these neurons are performing a virtual reality simulation of your mind, your brain. Therefore, they’re constructing a theory of your mind—of your intention—which is important for all kinds of social interaction.”
–Interview with V.S. Ramachandran, “Do Mirror Neurons Give Us Empathy?” Greater Good. University of California, Berkeley.
Social sciences also provide us with examples of how people are interdependent at the level of thoughts and feelings. The most well-known research was published in Dr. Nicholas Christakis’ and Dr. James Fowler’s book, Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives.
One aspect of Christakis’ and Fowlers’ research was on the contagious nature of happiness.
By analyzing data from a heart study (the Framingham heart study), Christakis and Fowler investigated the happiness of nearly 5,000 individuals over a 20 year period.
Their findings show that happiness spreads like a virus.
They found that happiness spreads not only among people who are close to each other, but also among people who have no direct contact with each other.
Here’s what they found when a single person becomes happy:
– Next door neighbors have a 34% increased chance of becoming happy.
– A friend living within one mile has a 25% increased chance of becoming happy.
– Siblings have a 14% increased chance of becoming happy.
– A spouse has an 8% chance of becoming happy
Dr. Fowler summarized this point as follows…
“We found that happiness can spread like a virus through social networks. In fact, if your friends’ friends’ friend becomes happy, it significantly increases the chance that you’ll be happy.”
–Dr. James Fowler, in “Happiness Is… – MSNBC.”
3. The Evolution of Interdependence
Adding to the discussion about our thoughts’ and feelings’ interdependence, we can also ask:
- Why are we even talking about interdependence today to begin with?
- What is urging scientists today to study our interdependence?
- Why are we, specifically today, finding out more about our interdependence?
The more we look into the history of our interdependence, the more we find that we have been exponentially growing more interdependent since our beginnings.
- families and tribes, to
- towns and cities, to
- developing countries,
- systems of exchange (money, trade, commerce),
- systems of conquering and defending lands and properties (armies),
- systems of public service, health and emergency service (police, hospitals, fire fighters),
- systems that guide those systems (governments, funding bodies),
- transportation systems (wheels, carts, trains, cars, planes), and
- communication systems (language, printing, the telegraph, telephones, the Internet).
Interdependence has developed throughout history to a point where today our interdependence is clearly global and tightening in on us.
4. Interdependence in Nature
Evolutionary biology takes the evolution of our interdependence a few steps further back. Research in evolutionary biology discovered interdependence before humans, animals and plants had come into existence, when ancient bacteria covered our planet.
Microbiologist Lynn Margulis, in her book Symbiosis in Cell Evolution: Microbial Communities in the Archean and Proterozoic Eons, described how ancient bacteria underwent a process of so-called “awakening”: waking up to their interdependence, similar to how we humans are waking up to our interdependence today.
She described an evolutionary story where around 2 billion years ago, ancient bacteria had completely covered our planet. Through processes of how bacteria survive in their environment (photosynthesis, respiration and fermentation) the bacteria continually consumed their available “resources.”
Notable to this consumption was that the bacteria initially didn’t “wake up” to the fact that they were interdependent. Therefore, their consumption of the planet’s resources was competitive: each bacterial colony “fought” for its resources against the other bacterial colonies.
When there was enough to go around, the bacteria would survive by consuming whatever was available. However, when resources became scarce, things started heating up.
The bacteria started becoming increasingly competitive, and they reached a crisis.
As they divided into different bacterial colonies, their attempts to acquire resources became increasingly competitive and exploitative of other bacterial colonies.
As a result, many of those bacterial colonies died.
What, then, did the bacteria do in the face of this crisis?
They cooperated. And by cooperating, they survived.
As it become apparent that ultimately none of the bacteria would be able to survive in this increasingly competitive atmosphere, the bacteria as if “woke up” to realize their interdependent situation positively.
They made this positive shift by developing a cooperative system that we now know as the “nucleated cell”: a bacterial community where each bacterium only receives what it needs for its sustenance, and gives the surplus to benefit the entire cell.
This story shows us a 5 step process of waking up to interdependence:
1. Competitive Individualism – a process of spreading and multiplying with a focus on fulfilling self interests.
2. Crisis of Competitive Individualism – crisis emerges when the multiplication of self interested parts reaches a threshold: resources become scarce, and the parts surviving off those resources become more competitive. Many of those parts then get killed off.
3. Awareness – of crisis in competitive individualism while interdependent.
4. Cooperative Mutuality – through awareness that survival of all parts is impossible in the competitive individualism plus interdependent situation, a new approach emerges to the interdependent situation: cooperation for the sake of mutual survival.
5. New Entity – not only does a new approach emerge, but through this new approach emerges a new entity. This new entity is expressed by cooperation of all parts, where each part receives what’s necessary for its sustenance, and gives any surplus for the benefit of the whole.
5. Interdependence in Nature and Humans
There are over 100 trillion bacteria in the human body.
Imagine if those bacteria were not working for the mutual interest of keeping you healthy and functional. Say, if they started working for each one’s individual self interest, what would happen to you?
You’d get sick quick. Then you’d die.
To summarize the evolutionary development of the ancient bacteria described above into 3 stages:
- Increasing individuation and separation
- Change to a more unified, whole organism out of all the parts that previously acted out of individual interest.
Us people have a lot in common with those bacteria.
We are parts of nature.
We are also divided into individuals and groups with multiple conflicting interests. Whether it be races, classes, religions, cultures or organizations, as individuals and as groups, we regularly try to gain an advantage of “me” or “my group” over others.
Take an overview of the ancient bacteria’s evolution, i.e.
competitive individualism ► crisis ► cooperative mutuality
…and through it, we can envision a purpose to our current conflicts.
The purpose of our conflicts is twofold:
1 – The Realization of Error
in Our Competitive Self Interested Approach to Each Other
The realization of error in our competitive self interested approach to each other, while we are increasingly interdependent. That is, conflicting interests of individuals and groups, while humanity becomes increasingly interdependent, brings about more crises.
2 – Revision of Our Approach:
The Development of a Cooperative Mutual Approach to Each Other
Realizing the error in our approach to each other should lead us to revise our approach.
In other words, the realization of error in our approach to interdependence is only half of our conflicts’ purpose, like the correct diagnosis of a disease is half its cure.
The other half of our conflicts’ purpose is to change our approach to our interdependence.
By replacing our competitive, individualistic approach of conflicting interests to a cooperative, mutual approach, where we merge our interests, we could then realize our interdependence harmoniously.
In other words, changing humanity’s mindset from “how to benefit myself” to “how to benefit others” is the key to everyone’s happiness.
Our interdependence is global and getting tight.
We become more entangled the more we blend.
Today, we’re in a very different state to where we were even a few years ago. If we could survive according to a paradigm of competitive individualism in the past, today’s situation is very different.
What is today’s tightening global interdependence showing us?
- If we fail to learn how to work together, with mutual interest in a common purpose of a harmonious existence, then we will experience increasing pains and hardships heading into the future.
- If we will learn how to work together, with mutual interest in a common purpose of a harmonious existence, then we will be able to create a much better and happier place for us all.
But this will only happen if we could change our attitude to our intensifying interdependent situation.
This social attitude shift depends on focusing on an attitude of cooperation and consideration of everyone’s benefit.
If we will succeed in making that shift, it will be the key to everyone’s happiness.
Interdependence – Takeaways
- We are globally interdependent:
– among our countries, cultures, technologies, communications, economies and industries;
– in our thoughts and feelings.
- We have been constantly growing more interdependent throughout our history.
- Our interdependence today is tighter than ever before.
- Our tightening interdependence with our clashing competitive interests brings us to crisis.
- If we could change our paradigm of clashing competitive interests to a paradigm of cooperative mutual interests, we could then experience our tightening interdependence harmoniously.
- Tightening interdependence evolving through crisis into a new harmonious entity is part of natural evolution.
2. Competitive Self-Interests
We have seen how we are interdependent.
We have also seen how this interdependence, although more apparent today, is a process that has evolved on our planet since the time of ancient bacteria.
Today, we have reached a state where our interdependence worldwide is tightening more intensely than ever before. Every person is influenced by a global network of billions of people in terms of objects we use, consume and wear, and also in terms of what we think, feel and want.
Now we will look deeper into what is standing in our way of realizing our interdependence harmoniously. It is what we have described as competitive self-interests.
Similar to the example of the nucleated cell, a more tangible example for us to be able to understand the first part of the prism is the way cells and organs function in a human body.
The overriding envelope guiding systems of cells, organs, proteins and bacteria in our bodies is harmonious interdependence: cells and organs take only what they need to sustain themselves, and give what they can for the whole body’s benefit. If cells take more than what they need for their sustenance, they’re considered cancerous, can lead to disease, and can kill us.
The body’s interdependent systems present a functionality, a law, which reflects on nature’s connections. The law is that the stability of life’s systems depends on the mutual relations of its parts. The sustainability of life requires cooperative mutual interests: relations of consideration, mutual concern, balance, altruism and equality.
Examples of the need for cooperative mutual interests to be in place for systems to function can be seen across nature: from the way in which atoms and molecules hold physical “stuff” together, to the way in which plants, bacteria, mammals, animals, insects, vegetative and animate life on land, in sea and air, function according to intuitive give-and-take relations. The kinds of interrelations in these interdependent systems pave way to many opportunities that make our lives here possible.
Dr. Martin Novak, Professor of Biology and Mathematics and Director of the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics at Harvard University, wrote about this…
“Creatures of every persuasion and level of complexity cooperate to live. Some of the earliest bacteria formed strings, where certain cells in each living filament die to nourish their neighbors with nitrogen. Some bacteria hunt in groups, much as a pride of lions hunt together to corner an antelope; ants form societies of millions of individuals that can solve complex problems, from farming to architecture to navigation; bees tirelessly harvest pollen for the good of the hive; mole rats generously allow their peers to dine on their droppings, providing a delicious second chance to digest fibrous roots; and meerkats risk their lives to guard a communal nest.”
–Martin Nowak with Roger Highfield, SuperCooperators: Altruism, Evolution and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed. Free Press, 2012: xiii.
What about us, humans?
Do we consider the benefit of others, or do we consider our own benefit?
Do we consider humanity’s benefit, or do we consider the benefit of only one or a few portions of humanity (my family, friends, city, state, country, religion)?
Comparing humans to the rest of nature, only we find enjoyment in others having it worse. You won’t see animals finding enjoyment, beyond their survival needs, in being “better” than other animals.
You won’t find animals building their identity on the account of other animals.
For example, when a lion chases an antelope, it is because the lion needs to eat that antelope in order to be fed and keep living. It doesn’t chase the antelope thinking, “I’m going to get that damn antelope! I’m going to show it and all those stupid antelopes how much stronger and more powerful we lions are! Everyone’s going to see who’s king around here!”
In terms of a body’s cell and organs, cancer emerges when cells start consuming more than what they need for their survival, when surplus is taken at the expense of other cells and organs. That’s happening with human society today. Each person or group focused entirely on fulfilling narrow interests is like another cancerous cell within a greater cancerous tumor of human society growing worldwide.
The expression of this disease spreading humanity can be seen in what people are suffering from on a daily basis. Below are just some examples of self interests causing us pains in our daily lives. Some examples are based on raw facts and statistics. Others are simply examples of routine life situations.
- Divorce is at an all-time high. There was never a situation in history as in the last 30-or-so years, where divorce rates have been so high. The family used to be one of our most secure and comfortable places. Today, it’s a place that often erupts in conflict, leading to its increasing dismantlement.
- Distrust: It takes a lot to earn trust today. Before we buy some service or product, we usually need to check from a range of sellers to make sure we’re getting the best deal. Even after checking, we’re still unsure about whether or not we’re being manipulated.
- (Dis)agreement: In order to reach any kind of agreement, we need lawyers or third-party legal agreements. We need to read fine print carefully, to make sure that the other party doesn’t get the upper hand in the deal.
- Markups: Goods and services regularly undergo markups. The markups run across the various stages of a product’s manufacturing, distribution and marketing, which lead to constantly rising prices of literally everything. Couple this with debt repayments, interest rates and inflation, and it’s a big part of the reason why, for example, today a bottle of Coke costs over 3,000% more than what it sold for about 100 years ago.
- Crisis: On a worldwide scale, the financial crisis of 2008 showed us how one bank falling in one country led to more banks falling in other countries. We then saw the domino effect it had on other areas of life, from falling banks to home foreclosures to a rapid rise in unemployment to worldwide protests, and a truckload of problems stemming from those events, continuing to affect people today.
- Awareness: The events that resulted from the 2008 financial crisis, most notably Occupy Wall Street, also increased public awareness about the 1% and the 99%. Wealth inequality has reached such an extreme today where the richest 1% of the world’s population are about to accumulate more combined wealth than the remaining 99% of the world’s population. Couple this with the fact that dozens of thousands of children die due to poverty, 3 billion people live on less than 2 dollars a day, a billion people are going hungry, 20% of the world’s population uses 80% of its resources, and that the world spends about 12 times more on military expenditures than on aid to developing countries.
Competitive individualistic relations + many conflicting interests in increasingly interdependent times = a world of distrust and injustice.
To state the obvious: Our competitive conflicting interests are interfering with us living happy lives. However, a positive note arises out of this darkening picture:
We are developing an awareness of our error in our competitive self-interested approaches to life.
Competitive Self-Interests – Takeaways
- Competitive self interests stand in our way of realizing our interdependence harmoniously
- Nature functions according to a law: a system’s sustenance requires cooperative mutual interests among the system’s parts
- Nature’s still, vegetative and animate parts intuitively abide by cooperative mutual interests
- Humans do not abide by cooperative mutual interests, i.e. we lack mutual relations of consideration, mutual concern, balance, altruism and equality
- Humans are the only parts in nature that find enjoyment in others having it worse
- Competitive self-interests emerge from the natural human tendency to want the upper hand on other people, a tendency that has led humanity to a crisis
- As a result of the crisis, we are developing an awareness of our error in our competitive self-interested approaches to life. More and more people are gaining awareness of the need to revise the way we conduct ourselves in order to survive and be happy
3. Cooperative Mutual Interests
What would happen if we would reconstruct our interdependent situation cooperatively, where we would mutually care for each other?
What would happen if we would work to look beyond our own interests, whether it be a person’s individual interests, or the interests of one’s family, culture, nation, religion, and so on, and try to find interests common to all people?
What would happen if we learned to acknowledge the fact that none of us had any choice in what city and country we were born in, what family, social class, culture and religion we were born into, and sought for a mutual common point that makes us all equally human here on this planet?
What would it be like if we would try to see people as belonging to a single family, in every interaction we have?
Would a mechanic charge his own son as much for a car service as he would a complete stranger?
Would a banker give out a home loan to his mother if he knew in advance that his mother couldn’t pay back that loan?
Would he put his own mother at risk of losing her home and going homeless?
Would a dairy products manufacturer seek to make milk for his newly born daughter with the cheapest chemicals and a gross neglect of the farming conditions, knowing that by feeding that milk to his daughter, he puts her at risk of inheriting serious diseases?
Imagine how much lower costs would be for all kinds of products and services if everyone’s calculation across the whole chain of production, distribution and marketing wasn’t focused on “How can I reap the most benefit for myself out of this transaction?” but, “How can I give my ‘global family’ the best possible product or service that they need at the best possible price?”
If we sincerely thought and acted by considering others as if they were our family, we would be actualizing the formula for happiness and abundance in our lives:
A lot of progress made in the past 20 or so years in science, business and education has pointed to the idea that the better the social connections, the better people’s happiness, business’ success, and students’ learning.