The truth is, I could not get through a day of my life without asking for help. A sampling of objects I cannot reach:
- elevator buttons for high floors
- the overhead compartment on airplanes
- the latch in airplane bathrooms (as you know)
- groceries above the second shelf
- dead bolts
- anything you set on my car roof or under the windshield wipers, or on my car hood
When I rejected living on the fringe of society, I chose to spend my life with a constant level of reliance on others. It might sound like that makes me needy. It’s the opposite. The biggest life we can live is not an independent one— it’s an interdependent one.
“Interdependence is both a fact of life and an orientation to life,” wrote Dr. Miki Kashtan, cofounder of Bay Area Nonviolent Communication and consultant at the Center for Efficient Collaboration. “Whether or not we consciously engage with the interdependence of life it continues to happen. . . . Whether we like it or not, whether we know about it or not, all things are interdependent.”
Interdependence as an Element of Corporate Culture
When I took over the leadership of the Caterpillar Foundation in 2011, I wanted to bring this same philosophy to the work we did. I was once asked by the Atlantic how we manage to collaborate with such a wide array of other organizations—from Feeding America and the Nature Conservancy to the American Red Cross and Water.org—and my initial answer was that we have to if we want to accomplish big initiatives. How we work together is another story.
To spur legitimate entrepreneurial opportunities in impoverished countries or supply clean water in desolate climates, it takes more than one person with a big checkbook or a big idea. Part of the criteria we established for selecting any partner charity is its willingness and ability to foster additional alliances with other nonprofits as well as private ventures and government organizations. This is what I call the three-legged stool because when multiple parties are brought into the philosophy of sharing resources, the parties are also brought into the philosophy that acknowledging our need for one another is what upholds us.
Sharing is Caring
When I was a newborn baby in my parents’ home, I was helpless. So were you. We were completely dependent on our moms and dads or other caregivers to keep us alive. As we got older, we were given more responsibility and taught that we could depend on ourselves to get important tasks done. When we became adults, most of us felt the immediate pressure to become completely independent, whether directly through our parents’ actions or indirectly through cultural expectations. But is the goal of adulthood to be wholly self-sufficient?
Haven’t we seen that staunch self-sufficiency in adulthood leads to as many problems as helpless dependence in adulthood?
Despite all the attention we give to individualism, one of life’s most powerful realities is that we thrive because of others, not in spite of them. It’s easy to forget, but this reality never changes as you grow from newborn to adult. The sooner we collectively grasp this, the sooner we access the full scope of resources all around us. And the sooner we see the treasure we possess that can be given to others.
Adapted with permission from Looking Up: How a Different Perspective Turns Obstacles into Advantages by Michele Sullivan, copyright Michele Sullivan.