"It takes a village to raise a child." Ever think about where that statement comes from? Like so many other common sense insights, it likely has many origins; indigenes across time and continents knew this long ago. In 1996, Hilary Clinton released her book, It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us, her inspiration no doubt borrowed from the ancients. What is both interesting and disappointing, is the outright opposition to the idea from so-called social conservatives, perhaps the most notable, former Senator Bob Dole. In his acceptance of the 1996 Republican nomination for president he said, "...[W]ith all due respect, I am here to tell you, it does not take a village to raise a child. It takes a family to raise a child." Senator Rick Santorum answered Ms. Clinton's tome in 2005 with his opposing It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good.
Mr. Dole's comments suggest a very narrow view. I'm reminded of George W. Bush, "...you are either with us or against us." This is what's known as a false dilemma; there are only two choices. Not true. Conservatives interpret "village" to mean "government." Specifically, an ever-expanding, redistributive, supervisory Liberal government. And this evil government would take control of the children, deprive parents of their rights, and render the kids godless humanists.
Before I get too deep into this let me first state very clearly: I am neither conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican. I withhold my disdain from neither.
On one side we have conservatives so focused on the nuclear family it has become an artificial boundary beyond which they seem reluctant to extend any compassion, and they won't hesitate to use the state to impose their will onto others. On the other side we have liberals who believe the state should take care of everybody, and they won't hesitate to use the state to impose their will onto others. Indigenes don't take sides.
A common arrangement among American Indians was for blood family to live close to each other. While Mom and Dad were out earning a living, hunting, gathering, growing crops, trading with others, Grandma and Grandpa were back at the ranch helping to raise the kids. And not just Grandma and Grandpa, but aunties and uncles and other adults and elders. Regardless of who the parents were, when a child showed up, adults would notice and assume responsibility for the child's welfare. They would integrate the child into their circle as one of their own, which included teaching. This is not to say the same is not true in mainstream America, but there is a definite, almost exclusionary emphasis on the so-called nuclear family. I'm only responsible for my kids, you're responsible for yours. If there's a problem, that's what the state is for. Parents look to the schools, aftercare programs, sports or the local mall to do what grandma and grandpa did in times past. Special programs with hired help have to be invented to fill in the gaps of parenting. We spend loads of money and give ourselves kudos for doing this. If you take issue with this, that's good. I urge you to study the statistics of teen pregnancies, gangs, teen homicide and suicide, runaways, drug and alcohol abuse, lack of motivation, but also look at federal, state, county, parochial, and secular programs to "combat" these statistics. Perhaps one reason for these numbers is that so many households require both parents to work outside the home just to stay afloat. Rave on capitalism.
What are some of the other differences between mainstream and indigenous ways, and could mainstream society benefit from the wisdom and experience of indigenous people? A fair question, I think, given indigenous people worldwide have not fared too well under mainstream's heavy hand.
Survival of the Village v. Success of the Individual: America suffers today because of simple greed. Personal success reigns supreme. But when does the practice of accumulating personal wealth begin to harm the larger society? It's time to seriously consider this question. There are those who argue that if the individual is successful, the village will prosper. They also argue these same elites create jobs. Neither is true. No one goes hungry in the village unless all are hungry. Village focus is on giveaway, not takeaway.
Punishment v. Balance: Some nine million people are held in prisons worldwide. While accounting for only 5.25% of global population, the United States has incarcerated 2,030,000 people, or 22.5% of the world's prison population! The US also has the highest prison population rate in the world at some 700 jailed per 100,000. Indigenous societies are more interested in restoring balance, in addressing what caused the problem in the first place, thereby healing the entire village, the very nature of which is to focus on the victim as much, if not more than, the victimizer.
Proselytizing v. Allowing: What Indigenous people ever got into the business of nation building? Indigenes worldwide recognize the right of people to live life as they see fit. The US has a long history of imposing its will as naked imperialism, or masquerading as Prosperity Democracy on countries and people who have only been harmed by these intrusions.
Honoring the Spirit in All Life v. Separation of Church and State: To really look at this we would first need to fully develop the ideas of "spiritual" and "religion," which is beyond the scope of this brief commentary. But, while I support a wide separation of religion and state within the political and legal arenas of the United States (which separation does not exist, by the way), I lament the apparent lack of respect and understanding of the living spirit within the Earth and all life, openly and publicly as a people, and acting accordingly.
Seeking Power v. A Willingness to Serve: Leaders of Indigenes were typically appointed by the people. In some 60% of tribes it was the women who decided this. Usually it was a person well-qualified, but not striving for position. Consider the mainstream, so many babbling heads clambering for political office.
Respect of Elders v. Worshiping Youth: That 18 to 35 year old demographic, tweens, and beauty queens. Ah, yes, this is where it's at. To its own detriment, mainstream America ignores one of its richest resources in its obsession with youth, physical beauty, wealth, and the privileged. It's common knowledge the high esteem and respect indigenous elders are held in. And why.
Compromise v. Consensus: Compromise is regarded as failure today. Politicians project another lie when they claim there are only two choices, conservative or liberal, and to compromise is to lose. Hence, there is no progress and the US taxpayer is proud benefactor of the world's most embarrassing political joke; the country that so proudly hails its demockracy to the rest of the world cannot get anything done. Consensus results from thinking outside the box, or Beltway, choose your metaphor. It is a process of finding solutions not otherwise considered that give the parties concerned what they can live with and, hopefully, even feel good about. Indigenes of North America were able to consistently produce consensus decisions and would work until one was crafted that literally all of the people would get behind.
There are many more differences between industrial culture and indigenous culture, but I think this is enough to make the point. Both Hilary and Bob are talking about some kind of village completely foreign to what the aphorism speaks to. I can see why social conservatives are leery of liberals saying it takes a village to raise a child. And I can see why liberals challenge the obsessive focus on the nuclear family idea. Mainstream culture is full of code words, double, even triple standards, and Americanized English is loaded with conceptual traps and absent references that are ever more destructive than we might imagine. So, when we talk about it taking a village to raise a child, let's first determine the nature of that village. And should mainstream society ever consider it might have a structural flaw or two, perhaps it's time to consider learning from what it's tried so long to rid the world of: indigenous culture.
RIck McBride is mixedblood Tsalagi (Cherokee) and believes mainstream everywhere could benefit greatly by adopting some of the traditional lifeways of local indigenous people. Please check out http://mixedblood.info to find out why.
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