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Interdependent Actualization: The Practicalities of “Being in This Together”

“We’re all in this together” is one of the most common responses to the experience of stress. Yet the reality of life, at least in what is called the Western World, is that we are only in this together at certain times, with most of our life experiences being individualistically experienced. The tension between “me and we”, the tension between my rights as an individual and my responsibilities to the community are very real, especially in countries where there is a long history of individual independence and individual rights.

For a myriad of different reasons, some people on our planet developed individualistic cultures, and other people developed collectivist cultures. Because of our dualistic either-or thought process, we have a hard time understanding that it does not have to one or the other. I can be an individual, and I can be a member of a larger group of people. It does not have to be either-or, it can and should be both-and. We do not have choose between “we” and “me” in our life together.

The word “actualization” means, according to, means to make something real. Maslow’s idea of self-actualization was to help people realize and actualize, “make real” the potential within themselves. At an individual level, The Matrix of Needs presents the idea that I can realize my full potential when I am safe in my relationships, in my place of residence, and in my body. We can never lose sight of the ways in which safety literally keeps us from falling apart.

After safety has been actualized, made real, the other needs, when they are met, can be fully actualized. Subsistence, Attaching Relationships, and Communication provide the starting point for our journey to wholeness, with Achievement and Social Relationships completing the foundation needed for us to balance “Me and We.”

It is in this foundational balance that the needs of Autonomy, Affiliative Relationships and Intimacy make us whole unto ourselves. We are fully actualized, fully human, when we are able to be independent decision makers for ourselves at the same time in which we choose whom we will relate within our social and vocational lives. And it is within this cradle of autonomy and affiliation that intimacy is experienced, realized, and empowered, using the metaphor of physics, to translate the potential energy within each one of us into the kinetic energy of being human.

When we are able to maintain safety for all people, when we are able to look out the needs of others and ourselves at the same time, we will have, in the words of Ury and Fisher, gotten to yes. While I know other ways to live, other ways to relate to and with others, I also know from a lifetime of experience that falling into the dualistic trap of we or me, us or them, may be effective for me, but it will not be effective in the long term. I have to stop measuring life by the boundaries of my own birth and death. Many indigenous cultures learned this long ago, as evidenced by the “7th generation principle” of the Haudenosaunee, or in English, the Iroquois Confederacy, who believe the decisions we make today should take into account the people living seven generations from now.

Interdependent Actualization is the path forward from a time of choosing individualism or collectivism, choosing “we” or “me” and making real the idea that we really are all in this together. To achieve this, I need to look out for my interests and yours at the same time. Likewise, you have to look out for your interests, and mine, at the same time. This is only possible if we are in a state in which all our needs are met and in which we feel safe in hour places of residence, our relationships, and our bodies. Safety is the glue that holds us together, without safety we literally fall apart. When we are able to add Me and We together, the result will be

Bob Bowen


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