Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Damaging Impact of a Lack of Community on Children and Our Society

When Hilary Clinton wrote her book, It Takes a Village to Raise a Child, there were many, especially on the right, who ridiculed her for making this statement.  Bob Dole in his 1996 presidential nomination acceptance speech said that it doesn’t take a village, it takes a family to raise a child.

But this ancient African proverb is as true today as it was when it originated in the village-based societies of Africa.  Of course it takes a family to raise a child.  The influence of the immediate family, for better or worse, has a dominant impact on a child’s  development, emotionally and otherwise.  

Children, however, do not live in an isolated world bounded by borders of their family home.  From an early age they come into contact with many other influences ... mass media, peers, teachers, strangers.  Unfortunately, in our culture, most of these influencers, even teachers, have very little interest in the healthy development of the child.  Each has their own interest that prevails.  

Media wants to influence the child to do what its bidders want the child to do.  They want to manipulate the child.  

Other children are often quite selfish and can be very cruel.  They deal with their own insecurities by acting out against others who are weaker in any way than they are.  

Teachers ... and of course there are many exceptions ... are so burdened by the number of children they must deal with and the often chaotic condition of the school and classroom that they are overwhelmed.  They go through the motions of teaching, rather than really teach.  

And strangers, except for the occasional good samaritan, have no interest in the child and will act on their own interests and needs.

What I’ve described is the antithesis of growing up in a village, at least the communal villages of primitive societies.  Even before the industrial revolution, the village in western cultures, while a self-contained society, was not communal in nature.  The impact of individualism, while so much more pronounced now, was present even in those nostalgic days.  And so the child came into contact with many people who had little or no concern for its wellbeing and development.  And its insecurities were deepened.

In the communal villages of primitive societies, the attitude towards children was very different.  Every child was in many ways everyone’s child, not just the parents’.  Everyone in the village had a concern for a child’s wellbeing and development.  That was the culture.  The strength of people lay in the combined strength of the village, not in their individual attainments.  You of course had individuals who excelled in various areas, but their work was dedicated to the good of the whole, not themselves as individuals.  A child brought up in this atmosphere felt secure and wanted, a part of a larger whole.

It is this absence of community in our society that has resulted in the prevalence of gangs and other antisocial organizations, and more recently of growing ultra-religious groups, that provide the feeling of community that everyone yearns for but at the cost of the larger society’s cohesion.  It is the absence of community that results in a heightened insecurity and an attitude that the only thing that’s important is me, and perhaps my immediate family.  We live in a dog eat dog culture because of the absence of a feeling of shared community and responsibility for each other.

I don’t know how we revive a sense of community in our country.  We are farther from that ideal now then ever, I fear.  And there appears to be precious little interest in turning back from the polarized state we are in.  It does not bode well for the future of our country.