On a scientific level, the two things that have set us apart as a species are our large brains and our erect bodies.
The large brains have empowered us to think about abstract ideas, facilitate nuanced relationships, and communicate elaborate messages, like why Gabby didn’t come to the family reunion.
Our upright bodies have empowered us to use our front limbs for holding tools and objects, like our phones so we can type a message about why we think Gabby didn’t come to the family reunion. (Did something come up? Does she not like us? Is this because of that guy she started dating? Is it because she went to college and no longer agrees with everyone and believes in evolution? Ugh… Gabby, always a problem child.)
Like Gabby and most of the scientific community, I’m also a fan of evolution, and we have some fascinating knowledge about our ancestors, knowledge that reveals that while these two amazing things transformed the history of homo sapiens, they came at a huge cost.
According to some fascinating research by Yuval Noah Harari in his award-winning book Sapiens, nutrition left our bodies to support our massive heads, making our bodies weaker (i.e. the world’s strongest athletes can still be torn apart by a gorilla).
Female homo sapiens’ pelvises shrank to support walking upright (i.e. women dying during childbirth).
Children are born before they’re brought to full maturation so they can pass through the birth canal (i.e. a giraffe can walk shortly after birth while a baby takes years).
Eventually, our massive brains would pay off, as we formed language, but for a long time, homo sapiens were very much so in the middle of the food chain, even scavenging off scavengers.
It wasn’t until we could finally start talking and communicating and organizing that we quickly climbed to the top of the food chain.
While we couldn’t rip apart a gorilla, we could surround it and stab it with lots of spears because we could communicate.
While a lot of women experience horrific pain in childbirth, we’ve passed knowledge from generation to generation helping more children enter the world because we could communicate.
While babies are born without the ability to walk and are super susceptible to being eaten by predators, their minds are more malleable and can be indoctrinated into invented culture and adopt many languages all because we can communicate.
Our weaknesses, our big head and upright bodies, while initially problematic, are the reasons we shot to the top of the food chain. And while these two things do empower us to think smart things and carry sharp spears, our ultimate strength as a species comes from communication because we need each other to survive.
And yet, in our individualistic society, weaknesses and needs are shamed and hidden.
“You have infinite potential!” the positive poster reads in your chiropractor’s office with a nature background.
“You’re a strong, independent human!” your best friend texts after your most recent breakup.
“You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you!” the pastor preaches from the pulpit.
The belief that we don’t need anyone has brought about social expectations that further isolate us.
Instead of living in tribes, we moved to living with multiple generations. Instead of multiple generations, we moved to the “nucleus family.” Instead of the nucleus family, we moved out of our childhood homes and into dorms or housing with other barely legal adults. Instead of living with barely legal adults, we move into an apartment, alone, so we can prove to the world and the people we’re trying to date that we aren’t pathetic. Then, as we get old, we stay in these large houses after our families age out and die, not moving in with our kids because that looks too weak. The result is that Boomers are becoming the “loneliest generation” because of their “prized individuality,” according to the Wallstreet Journal.
But it’s not just housing; it’s also how we engage with people.
“In the past,” Ryan Jenkins CSP writes in his article about why Gen Z is the loneliest generation (apparently we’re all fighting for the ranking), “if your faucet was leaking in your home, you may have knocked on your neighbor’s door to ask for a plumber recommendation. Or you may have called a family member or friend to have them guide you through the process to fix it. Today, your first step would likely be to open YouTube and search for ‘how to fix a leaky faucet.’”
We don’t need anyone. We’ve got this!
But that which we have labeled a weakness — dependency — has always been our species greatest strength, and our mental health is paying a terrible price.
Sixty percent of people who experience loneliness also experience mental distress. So when 58 percent of the United States feels like no one in their life knows them well, it’s not surprising that 39 percent of the United States population reports suffering from anxiety and depression.
In a powerful book called Tribe by Sebastian Junger, he shares how during the bombing of London in World War II, thousands left mental health institutions, no longer suffering from psychosis as a result of feeling like they belonged to something bigger than themselves, as a result of coming together as a community to make it through horrific times.
We were not designed to do life alone. Besides, even if you wanted to, you can’t. It’s literally impossible to be truly independent.
Take for an example this publication.
To educate myself about this content, I had to learn this information from lots of people (as you can see from my sources). To write it, I had to purchase a computer that passed through the hands of miners, factory workers, shippers, truckers and sales reps. To publish it online, someone had to come up with the idea of this platform, hire a team, purchase software to support the team from another team started by another person. To have the platform exist, millions of people over many generations had to develop the technology that would eventually lead to the internet and computers and electricity and the infostructure to support said internet and electricity.
Millions, likely billions of people have made it possible for me to publish a five-minute read, and that’s just one activity.
Now think about eating, think about driving, think about that fancy oat milk cappuccino you love so much at that cute café down the road.
Every activity we participate in for our survival and happiness exists because of millions of people, because of the billions of lives that have gone before us.
The human story is not one of independence, and it should not be lifted up as some prized virtue. Independence a scam; it’s harmful, and it’s ultimately a weakness.
Our strength has always been and will always reside in our need for each other.
So why are you trying so hard to do it alone? To prove you’re capable? You’re not. Not by yourself. But with others? That’s where the magic happens.
It’s time to get needy.
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Image by Frank McKenna.