Do We Really Need Other People?

When I was a kid, our annual family vacation was usually at Sequoia National Park in central California.  We would rent a “housekeeping cabin” where we’d cook on a wood stove, then put the leftover food scraps in metal trash cans on the canvas covered porch.  Shortly after dusk each night, we would watch through the windows as black bears would rummage through our trash cans, three feet from us.   (They don’t let you do that anymore.)

Giant Sequoia Trees

During the day we would visit the general store, take day hikes out to Crescent Meadow and climb Morro Rock.  We would hold peanuts on our laps and watch the chipmunks climb up our legs to grab them, and we’d watch blue jays fight for the ones that dropped (the peanuts, not the chipmunks).

Good times.

My favorite adventure was the nature walks, led by the park rangers.  Every day we would go on a different excursion where these experts described the intricate details of our surroundings.  One day it would be about trees.  The next, it would be about animals.  Then we would learn about the conditions on the forest floor that enabled seeds to grow.

Even at that young age, I was fascinated.  I remember how I felt when the ranger said, “We’re surrounded by the largest and oldest living things in the world – the giant Sequoia Redwoods.”
She told us that when the first explorers stepped onto the shore of the New World, these trees had already been alive for over a thousand years.

Giant Sequoia TreesGeneral Sherman was the granddaddy of them all.  By volume, it’s the biggest tree in the world.  Other trees are taller, but Gen. S. is the beefy one.  Weighing about 2 million pounds, it’s been around for about 2200 years (which means it was already 200 years old when Christ was born).  Our whole group would circle the tree and touch fingertips, but we never had enough people to reach around the tree.

“What do you think keeps this tree from falling over?” the ranger asked.  I had paid attention in science class, and remembered what my teacher told me.  “The taproot,” I said.  “Trees have one huge room going straight down that holds the tree in place.”

“Good guess,” she said, “but these giant Sequoias don’t have taproots.”

Now I was confused.  Taproots kept trees from falling over during storms, earthquakes and other natural events.  Now this ranger was telling us that the largest trees in the world are missing their taproots.

So what holds it up?

“These trees have surface roots that extend sideways for a huge distance – often covering a whole acre of ground.”

She continued:

“But that’s still not enough to hold them up.  These trees grow in groves, close to other trees.  Their roots reach out and intertwine with the roots of every other tree That’s where the strength comes from.”

“In simple terms, the trees hold each other up during the worst conditions.  If one of these trees were alone, it wouldn’t survive.”

We value independence.  I know I do; it’s hard for me to ask for help or depend on someone else.  It’s like a two-year old telling her mom, “I can do it all by myself.”

I don’t want to be dependent; I want to be independent.  I want to do it all by myself.

But we weren’t made for independence.

We’re made for interdependence.

We don’t realize that we need each other until the storm hits.  That’s when we discover that we don’t have taproots.

We need to hold hands through life.


When have you needed others to stay upright in the storm?


  • Diane

    I am so lucky to have friends that for more than 20 years have stood around me to protect and encourage me when the wind of life was blowing me over and I had no strength to stand on my own. As independent as I like to be, I have had to learn how to accept help and now know just how much I really need others to walk this life with me.

    • We wouldn’t be hear without our friends . . . and each other . . .

  • Dan

    I need help staying upright in the GOOD times, let alone the storms! Great post Dr. Mike!

    • Good thought — nobody said this thing called “life” was easy!

  • gracee

    We were in Sequoia this spring, and that’s what we learned about the sequoia’s roots system too (that’s why we’re not suppose to get close to them, stepping on their shallow roots). Thank you for applying this interesting fact to our relationships. Now when I see Sequoias and I’ll of think of a community that needs each other to stand through the storm.

    • Thanks – isn’t Sequoia a great place to hang out?