In my blog on resilience, I mentioned that one of the qualities that contributes to being able to adapt to unexpected change is interdependence. Many of us who are older, and perhaps especially those of us who were raised male, have internalized our culture’s emphasis on self-reliance and competitiveness. At an early age, we may have developed strengths that would contribute to our self-sufficiency. We learned to hide our fears and to live silently with unmet needs in order to protect our vulnerability.
There are two reasons why it is important to examine those old habits. First with age becomes increasing vulnerability to all kinds of physical, financial, and social challenges. We need to form mutually supportive relationships with each other in order to meet those challenges and still maintain an acceptable quality of life. In fact, admitting our vulnerability can lead to deeper, more fulfilling relationships with others. I learned that not long ago when, after insisting on my independence in recovering from a series of surgeries, my poor self-care nearly cost me my life! I realized I needed to learn how to ask for and accept help. In the process I grew closer to those whom I finally allowed to be there for me with their compassionate care.
The other reason for letting go of our attachment to independence is that collectively we are facing a challenging time. Rapid globalization with its concomitant expectation of acceptance of diversity and equal protections for all seems to have unleashed unpredicted resistance and resentment. We are experiencing a reactive yearning to return to comfortable cultural roots and biases and many of our hard-won rights and freedoms may soon be compromised. It is, perhaps, a good time to form alliances with each other and with other minorities. Just as many Native American tribes are coming together in solidarity at Standing Rock, perhaps it is time to just keep adding more letters to our community acronym until we cover the entire alphabet and we truly do represent the rainbow that has become our symbol of inclusiveness!
The most important aspect in cultivating the bridging potential of inter-dependence is that it be a broadly shared effort. Whether we are part of a supportive team to help each other age with dignity or part of an organization committed to protecting our collective achievements, we each lend our unique strengths while also acknowledging our limitations. Some of us are better able to respond quickly in times of crisis while others of us are big-picture planners and still others can be depended upon to handle the details over the long haul. Bridges are strong when the weight they carry is distributed throughout the structure. Every component of the structure serves a unique function and is vital to the integrity of the whole.
Buz Hermes is co-facilitator of the Sonoma Valley LGBT Seniors Group and a former staff member of Spectrum’s Senior Outreach Program. He is currently a consultant on LGBT aging and can be reached at [email protected] or (707) 227-6935.