It Takes a Village

It Takes a Village

There is an African proverb that says ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’ implying that an entire community of people is required to provide and interact positively with children for those children to grow in a safe and healthy environment.

I believe we can extend this statement to ‘it takes a village to raise a person.’ Whether it be raising them up from their lowest times, or elevating them to an even higher status, a positive community influence on an individual is important for their continued development. As health has now extended into ensuring we have a healthy social life, it becomes even more important that we are aware of how individual actions affect the collective, but also how the collective affects us.

First off, let us examine the impact we have on the collective. What you do in daily life can have a small, but very real impact on another individual. From making a coffee that supports the train driver, or simply flashing a kind smile to a stranger, your actions can lead to very real influence on those around you. In an extreme example, the power of one individual (or a group of powerful individuals) can exert influence over the entire world. For example, although Steve Jobs wasn’t the inventor of the iPhone (he had a team full of talented engineers), he was the person who spearheaded its’ creation.

How does one man spearhead a device that is now being used by almost every third or fourth person in the entire world? Not only that, but the birth of the iPhone also created the ‘tablet’, which has now come to replace computers in many tasks.

This is an extreme example of how one man’s influence benefitted the collective. Now suppose we take the opposite. How can we view the collective as having an impact on you?

An easy example we could use is your immediate family. Think about the culture within your household, culture that is perpetuated by your parents, as well as your grandparents. Cultural values, which shaped their upbringing, have now passed onto you. Whether you are conscious of it or not, it will influence the way you behave and think. For example, there is a long tradition of ‘respecting your elders’ in Chinese culture, which plays out as slight bows of the head, as well as making sure they are first to eat at the dinner table.

If we were to extend this further, how a collective views certain invisible ‘rules’ in society have a strong effect on how an individual can act. For example in Japan, eating in public is not illegal, however it is socially frowned upon. If you were to eat in public, there would be plenty of disapproving stares from the public. Similarly, if the collective is risk-averse in thinking, then you might be influenced to think the same. This would be great if you’re not a particularly aspirational person, however it would be quite frustrating if you were.

By being aware of the village’s impact on us, as well as our impact on the village, we are able to assess whether we are making a positive contribution to our village. If we are not, perhaps it is time we do. Furthermore, is the village making a positive contribution to us? Namely, is the village supporting me or is it holding me back? These are tough questions of course, but just as social groups can be detrimental, so too can the immediate village.

Ultimately it all starts with you – you are the village and the village is in you.