Freedom, independence, self-sufficiency: these are glorious concepts. We celebrate them because they’re so deeply ingrained in our image of America. We see ourselves as a nation of rugged individualists: seizing the bull by the horns, charting our own course, walking alone into the forest with an axe slung over our shoulder or whatever picture you want to paint as your portrait.

Yes, all romantic notions, but do they speak to our foundational evolution or presence? 

America is a nation of small, tight-knit communities and always has been. The more we cooperate, share, defer to others, and work together, the more successful we are. It’s long been said that America is all about rugged individualism, and that is true to some extent. Yes, being as self-sufficient as you can be is an admirable trait, but it only takes one so far. People need people in order to really live and thrive.

When our ancestors landed on the shores of the new world, they didn’t head off into the woods to build a log cabin single-handedly. No, they banded together in small communities. They worked together, struggled together, cried together, and celebrated together. They shared what they had when they could—and expected others to do the same for them when they needed help. Early Americans had to live this way. Otherwise, they would never have survived.

The more you think about the myth of the self-reliant early American, the less likely it seems. Our ancestors huddled together in small groups and worked to protect each other and build a foundation for future generations. They joined forces, shared what they had, and leaned on each other when times were tough.

And on the larger stage, our nation’s founders had to work together in a similar fashion to shape the country we call home. They were working toward independence as a new nation, but they had to rely on interdependence to get there. They didn’t always agree, but they worked toward the common goal of a free society with democratic rule. And as leaders of communities of all shapes and sizes and demographics and political persuasions, we can all learn a lot from our forefathers.

So here’s what I believe: Today, real independence is about working hard, playing hard, building strong relationships with family and friends, and being happy in the place where you put down roots. For the most part, this can exist only in the context of community. 

This Independence Day, I hope you’ll take a moment to be grateful for your community and reflect on what you might do to make it better. Support local businesses. Help Neighbors in need. Get involved with organizations. Find a cause that speaks to you. Share your ideas. Join together with like-minded individuals and work to make something happen. 

The spirit of community is the spirit that built America.