Shayne Looper: They say it takes a village – but which one?
In Africa there is an adage, which Hilary Clinton popularized in the West, that goes like this: “It takes a village to raise a child.” There is a good deal of truth in that statement. While children learn, or should learn, primarily from their parents, they do not learn only from their parents.
Children learn from other children. They learn from the clerk at the supermarket, from the Sunday school teacher at church, and from the woman who cleans great grandma’s room at the nursing home. I don’t know if that is what Secretary Clinton had in mind when she titled her book, but in this sense, at least, the proverb is true.
Imagine two villages near each other along a great river, and all the commerce of the region moves along that river. In the village on the east side of the river, people are generous and kind. They tell the truth. They make personal sacrifices to benefit fellow villagers in need. They never use coarse or rude language. They treat people with dignity, whether they are rich or poor, young or old.
The village on the west side of the river is very different. There the people are grasping and rude. They routinely lie to one another and take advantage of one another. They laugh at the unfortunate and curse at those with whom they disagree. If a person is rich they may fawn all over him, but if he is poor they are as likely to spit on him as to speak to him.
You happen to live on an island in the great river, halfway between the two villages. You have to go to one or the other to purchase supplies and clothing, and you have to take your children with you when you go. If it takes a village to raise a child, which village do you think you will frequent?
Your decision will have consequences. The village will rub off on you and your children. The village will teach you values and practices, whether you are aware of it or not.
In real life we occupy a place in the great stream of social interaction. Which village, I wonder, is helping raise our children and grandchildren? Which village is instructing us, rubbing off on us? Our culture has a set of values and it communicates those values all the time. It communicates them in the workplace and at school, on social networking sites and through popular music. It models them through television and the movies.
Through these sources we pick up mannerisms, learn dress codes, and rescript our language. We learn how to respond to disagreement, how to invest, how to court, and how to divorce. In the ‘80s men learned to turn their collars up and women learned how to puff their hair out. In the ‘90s, men began shaving their heads. In the last few years, a spate of teenage revenge movies motivated students to pay back their enemies, and YouTube encouraged them to film their fierce payback for immediate, worldwide distribution.
We are, in everyday life, more a product of our society than we care to admit. What society do we keep? Which village is helping to raise our children?
We would do well to learn from Jesus, not Hollywood, how to talk and invest and respond to disagreements. And it is immensely helpful to see those values, and the life they lead to, modeled within a community — a village, if you will — of loving and courageous people.
Those who are serious about experiencing a different and better life, and who want that life for their children, ought to look at the villages they frequent with an anthropologist’s eye. What are their hopes, values and beliefs? What are they teaching the children?
They may also want to visit a new village — the church. They just might fall in love with its climate and atmosphere. And who knows? They may someday decide to settle down there.
The Daily Reporter (Coldwater, Mich.)