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Many words in the English language are diverted and assaulted regularly, either benignly or malignantly, and none more so than the word "independence." In its most garish form, one conjures up images of John Wayne riding into town, returning to a family he long ago abandoned or reluctantly assuming some task that can only be accomplished by someone disconnected and alone with "nothing to lose." Some contorted interpretations get translated in a way that inhibits asking or accepting help combined with an unwavering self reliance despite physical and emotional limitations or consequences. The word sometimes is used to artificially exaggerate the value of one person over another and give rise to projected disability and the fallacious outcome of pity. The reality is that independence and dependence live side by side.

In the worst part of Covid, the occasional awareness of our need for each other became strikingly clear. Most of us do not grow all our own food, provide our own healthcare, build our own vehicles, or possess our own fire fighting equipment. In one way or another, we need each other. In one way or another, we are all dependent. That said, we cannot diminish the value attached to independence. It gives rise to a special set of feelings and an abiding appreciation for the ambiguous values that are rooted there. It deserves to be appropriately honored. Independence doesn’t mean control. It doesn’t mean separateness. It doesn’t preclude receiving help. It doesn’t define a person. But it does have something to do with freedom. It has something to do with participation. It has something to do with choice.

Most my friends who have an intellectual or developmental disability would agree with me. They tell me that independence means having a pathway to learn and grow in ways that strengthen their participation in their own lives – choice, action, and capacity. They want to be able to do the everyday things others do. They want to be able to work towards a goal they determine. They want to be viewed as someone who can accomplish goals, no different than anyone else.

On August 27th, I’ll be walking in The Mission Project’s Independence Walk. I’ll be walking knowing I’m supporting choice and goals and all the steps to get there. Independence does not mean we are in this life thing alone. It means we believe in each other.

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