Dr. Kwame Brown looks at the proverbial village. Does it need our help more than we need anything from it?
I have had many discussions with people about the expression “It takes a village to raise a child”. As a first born son raised in a home that was steeped in the study of history and ancient cultures, this is a very important phrase to me.
This phrase is often attributed as an African proverb. However, the more accurate attribution is “everywhere”. This proverb, changing slightly in phrasing depending on the language, has been said all over the world. But what does it mean?
What it means, by my understanding, is that the whole village participates in the raising of a child. Herein lies the rub for a lot of people, especially in the United States. Because we see child rearing as this sort of “control” and “telling” activity, we interpret this proverb to mean “everyone will be telling my child what to do”.
I see this proverb a different way.
I see it as something that many different cultures around the world have recognized as demonstrably true: The village must cooperate in and support the raising of the child.
I have never understood the village raising the child to be solely about the explicit teaching of morals. I have understood this to be about the way villages are structured, the customs we share, the way children are provided for and treated, and the way we support one another. I understand this proverb to be about how villagers cooperate with one another to set the table for kids.
Even more importantly, I understand that this will be true whether we like it or not.
I was in a discussion with some friends the other night, and the argument was that parents can raise children on their own.
I agree that many parents do not need help telling their children what is right and wrong. I agree that many parents do not need help feeding their children or telling them when to go to bed or try hard. But looking at individual sets of parents belies the fact that we are all connected.
Parents do need support and cooperation. When I spoke of schools, grocery stores, roads and infrastructure being part of the village, I was told that these things were simply “businesses” and “services”.
That this point was made at all showed me just how fractured the village has become. That we would see the roads we travel on daily, the people who teach our children for 8 hours a day, the main sources of our food – all as separate from the village.
Have the technological and economic “progress” of humanity blinded us that badly? That we have represented every other part of the village life outside of the front door to the house as a corporate entity?
That this point was made at all shows me just how isolated parenting has become for so many. In minimally contacted tribes, parents still know personally those who gather and hunt for the food. Parents know those who clear the brush. Parents know those who make the rules. Parents would know those who make the songs.
But we have been heavily contacted.
In our society, the village has been fractured by the heavy stone of the corporation. It has been fractured by the heavy stone of the nation-state. Fractured into “parents vs. the corporation and all others”.
You, the parent, are responsible for everything the child learns. Everything they eat. Everything they see.
Except that in practice, this is a falsehood for most people. Other people are still providing those things. We just use plastic cards to tell them we can have some.
When the village is fractured, we see all of these people as “services”. We see all of them as separate from “us” and “our families”. We do not see them as other people, who also have families, who are providing for the village. We demand of them as businesses. We often demand of parents as if they are businesses, churning out more child widgets.
People we do not know that well are licensed by a place hundreds of miles away to care for many of our children. Yet, these entities that we see as so separate still affect our children.
Can parents act as a significant buffer, and be “largely self-sufficient”? Yes. But what we are not seeing is how much of a toll this is taking on us all, this view that what is supposed to happen is parents standing in front of their children taking on the entire world. This is not possible en masse. Will some parents be successful? Yes. Those with exceptional resolve. Those with resources where they lack resolve.
Is this the model we wish to take forward for humanity? Or is there something better?
“Just lay back, everyone will do it for you” vs. “No one is going to help you ever. You must do it on your own.”
“We can help each other. This means that we all must give full effort, learn as much as we can from one another, and help one another. Everyone must participate. Everyone matters.”
I know what comes next: We can’t wave a magic wand and do this. That, to me, is a cop-out response that I see far too often. It comes from people being shook. Otherwise, it makes no sense given the tremendous ways in which the world has changed, to assume that it can change no more.
We are the ones we have been waiting for. Go know someone. Go interact. Act as if the people in your neighborhood are part of your village, working on the roads, helping teach your children, growing and stocking your food. Who knows, we may be able to repair a crack or two in this village of ours.
Originally appeared on Dr. Kwame Brown