The Seven Habits are not a set of separate or piecemeal psych-up formulas. In harmony with the natural laws of growth, they provide an incremental, sequential, highly integrated approach to the development of personal and interpersonal effectiveness.
They move us progressively on a Maturity Continuum from dependence to independence to interdependence. We each begin life as an infant, totally dependent on others. We are directed, nurtured, and sustained by others.
Without this nurturing, we would only live for a few hours or a few days at the most. Then gradually, over the ensuing months and years, we become more and more independent—physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially—until eventually we can essentially take care of ourselves, becoming inner-directed and self-reliant.
As we continue to grow and mature, we become increasingly aware that all of nature is interdependent, that there is an ecological system that governs nature, including society. We further discover that the higher reaches of our nature have to do with our relationships with others—that human life also is interdependent.
Our growth from infancy to adulthood is in accordance with natural law. And there are many dimensions to growth. Reaching our full physical maturity, for example, does not necessarily assure us of simultaneous emotional or mental maturity.
On the other hand, a person’s physical dependence does not mean that he or she is mentally or emotionally immature.
On the maturity continuum, dependence is the paradigm of you—you take care of me; you come through for me; you didn’t come through; I blame you for the results.
Independence is the paradigm of I—I can do it; I am responsible; I am self-reliant; I can choose. Interdependence is the paradigm of we—we can do it; we can cooperate; we can combine our talents and abilities and create something greater together.
Dependent people need others to get what they want. Independent people can get what they want through their own effort. Interdependent people combine their own efforts with the efforts of others to achieve their greatest success. If I were physically dependent—paralyzed or disabled or limited in some physical way—I would need you to help me. If I were emotionally dependent, my sense of worth and security would come from your opinion of me. If you didn’t like me, it could be devastating. If I were intellectually dependent, I would count on you to do my thinking for me, to think through the issues and problems of my life.
If I were independent, physically, I could pretty well make it on my own. Mentally, I could think my own thoughts, I could move from one level of abstraction to another.
I could think creatively and analytically and organize and express my thoughts in understandable ways. Emotionally, I would be validated from within. I would be inner directed. My sense of worth would not be a function of being liked or treated well.
It’s easy to see that independence is much more mature than dependence. Independence is a major achievement in and of itself. But independence is not supreme.
Nevertheless, the current social paradigm enthrones independence. It is the avowed goal of many individuals and social movements. Most of the self-improvement material puts independence on a pedestal, as though communication, teamwork, and cooperation were lesser values.
But much of our current emphasis on independence is a reaction to dependence—to having others control us, define us, use us, and manipulate us.
The little-understood concept of interdependence appears to many to smack of dependence, and therefore, we find people, often for selfish reasons, leaving their marriages, abandoning their children, and forsaking all kinds of social responsibility—all in the name of independence.
The kind of reaction that results in people “throwing off their shackles,” becoming “liberated,” “asserting themselves,” and “doing their own thing” often reveals more fundamental dependencies that cannot be run away from because they are internal rather than external—dependencies such as letting the weaknesses of other people ruin our emotional lives or feeling victimized by people and events out of our control.
Of course, we may need to change our circumstances. But the dependence problem is a personal maturity issue that has little to do with circumstances.
Even with better circumstances, immaturity and dependence often persist.
True independence of character empowers us to act rather than be acted upon. It frees us from our dependence on circumstances and other people and is a worthy, liberating goal. But it is not the ultimate goal in effective living.
Independent thinking alone is not suited to interdependent reality. Independent people who do not have the maturity to think and act interdependently may be good individual producers, but they won’t be good leaders or team players. They’re not coming from the paradigm of interdependence necessary to succeed in marriage, family, or organizational reality.
Life is, by nature, highly interdependent. To try to achieve maximum effectiveness through independence is like trying to play tennis with a golf club—the tool is not suited to the reality.
Interdependence is a far more mature, more advanced concept.
If I am physically interdependent, I am self-reliant and capable, but I also realize that you and I working together can accomplish far more than, even at my best, I could accomplish alone.
If I am emotionally interdependent, I derive a great sense of worth within myself, but I also recognize the need for love, for giving, and for receiving love from others. ”
Excerpt From: Stephen R. Covey. “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”