Living in an Interdependent World

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Our interdependent world

Today's world requires us to accept the oneness of humanity. In the past, isolated communities could afford to think of one another as fundamentally separate. Some could even exist in total isolation. But nowadays, whatever happens in one region eventually affects many other areas. Within the context of our new interdependence, self-interest clearly lies in considering the interest of others.

The world has changed, and with this change humans face new responsibilities vis-a-vis each other and the planet they share. In earlier times, families and communities lived more or less independently of one another. In the modern world of global communications and technology, societies are much more interconnected than in the past, on the material level at least. With this new reality comes the need for a new outlook.

The Dalai Lama emphasizes the reality of interdependence in human life, beginning from birth and early childhood dependence on our mother.

We can extend this logic of dependence from the family out to the community and society, to the national and international levels, and even to the economy and environment — then we can see how interconnected we are, how interdependent the world is.

"Globalization" is a common theme today. Do you think that peoples around the world today are more economically interdependent than before?

 "Our" interests are now so often interwoven with those of "others" that in serving others we benefit ourselves as well, regardless of whether this was our original intention.

The Dalai Lama gives the example of two families sharing a single water source — each family's efforts to protect the water from pollution benefits both families. Consider how the technological developments and policies of one country can affect the environment of other countries.

With an understanding and appreciation of this highly complex and interdependent world, we cannot escape the necessity for care toward each other. Then, even from the point of view of one's own personal survival and well-being, one can argue for an ethical system based on affection.

A young child's affection does not come through faith; it is naturally very strong. I think the mistake we make is that when we're grown up, we start to think we're independent. We think that in order to be successful we don't need others — except maybe to exploit them! This is the source of all sorts of problems, scandals, and corruption. But if we had more respect for other people's lives — a greater sense of concern and awareness — it would be a very different world. We have to introduce the reality of interdependence. Then people would discover that, according to that reality, affection and compassion are essential if anything is ever going to change.