Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Can a global village raise a child?

By Jim Harding 
No Nukes
July 29, 2012

You've likely heard the saying “it takes a village to raise a child’. You’ve also likely heard “We live in a global village”. The first saying suggests it takes a lot of neighbours as well as extended family to provide positive support for a child to grow up healthy. The second saying comes from Canada’s own Marshall McLuhan, and refers to how the electronic media, primarily TV, connects us emotionally to what’s happening on the other side of the planet.

Both are true in their own way, and it’s revealing to try to figure out why it is so difficult to make them fit. But it’s being attempted; some city neighbourhoods have even renamed themselves as villages, such as Regina’s “Cathedral Village”. 


The village that can raise a child is typically seen as being small and stable, where people know and care about each other and show it. Such a “village” can, however, be romanticized. The tribal or agrarian communities that embody this can be very interdependent, but they can also become parochial.

However, the notion of the “global village” can also be romanticized. We are learning to be more compassionate about the trials and tribulations facing people abroad, as shown by generous world relief support. But, unless we travel as a volunteer or integrate into local culture, we don’t know much about the daily lives of those that we may empathize with through global communications.

Meanwhile the globalization of news, entertainment and commerce isn’t neutral; it can put neighbourhoods and villages at risk. Local economies everywhere are steadily being undercut by powerful multi-national chains. Villagers are uprooted from the land and compelled to travel to low-paying jobs, to support the family left at home. In extreme cases children can be taken by armies as child soldiers or end up in child prostitution rings.

It’s hard for a “village” of nomadic refugees, fleeing from civil war or environmental degradation, to raise healthy children. A community ravaged by militarism that steers alienated youth into self-sacrifice as suicide bombers has given up on raising a child. The hardening of children in the “global village” is now a challenge for us all. 


When famine hits an area, we may turn our eyes from the TV, or change the channel, to protect ourselves from really seeing the desperate, huge eyes of a starving baby. These unfortunate children may never get the opportunity to be raised by a village. Meanwhile, if we get too dependent on the TV images coming into our home, we may get cut off from our immediate neighbours. And there are deeper impacts: the more TV that a child watches, especially in the early years, the more likely their development will be arrested. Youth who get lost in the virtual realities of the internet are already facing developmental challenges. This can go to terrible extremes. Highly marginalized youth, who have easy access to assault weapons and fantasize and execute mass murder, such as in Norway last year and recently in Colorado, are clearly not being raised by a village. 


In spite of all these concerns, we are still learning that people everywhere care about their water, suffer when food prices rise, face flooding and extreme weather events and want their communities to be secure from violence. The “global village” carries on. The paradox is that we may watch our TV, and have real empathy for people we see struggling abroad, while not knowing that someone in our neighbourhood is in desperate need and stricken with their own despair.

Consumerism can reinforce the view that we get personal satisfaction from the latest “techno-toys” in the market. Video games that desensitize youth to real harms and moral consequences are definitely adding to the challenges of the “global village”. Meanwhile most of the “toys” we consume in vast amounts are produced abroad by cheap labour, by the very people who are losing stability in their own village. And the fragmentation of home and work, where some of us spend many hours a day commuting to a job, doesn’t help nurture a village atmosphere anywhere.

The more we seek personal satisfaction, out of relationship and in isolation from others, the more de-skilled we become in reaching out beyond our safe limits, meeting new people and making fresh conversation. The ability of some to so separate themselves “from the village” suggests that, for them, “the village” doesn’t exist. In the aftermath of the community traumas from the mass murdering in Norway and Colorado there are signs of “the village” of face-to-face support coming together, but a village created in the aftermath of such violence is not likely to be sustained. It will take more. 


Desperate for connection in our shrinking, often confusing world, many youth try to “text” an instant community into existence. There can be deep confusion about personal boundaries as facebook spreads. There’s a generation gap in how “the village” is even understood. When we are raising our children or after we retire from the demanding workplace, we value the stability and support of a place. However, when we leave home, on our journey out of the village of our birth into the bigger world, the people we consider to be in “our community” can live all over the map. This is especially true, now, with global travel and communications. The “global village” that can raise a child will have to span “the community” of place and the community constructed across space. The “global village” of networks and friendships, however, will never replace the importance of actual place, of the home and community which grounds us all. Thankfully there’s already middle ground, for old and young alike develop lifelong, heartfelt friendships that survive regardless of where we live and where we move. 


The “global village” alters the makeup of our community, whether rural, urban or northern. Canada is a country of indigenous, settler and immigrant peoples. The list of places that people come from grows each day. Our communities need to be even more open and hospitable to newcomers and newcomers have to be respectful of place. The traditions, the heritage and history of each place matters and newcomers generally want to know where they have come. They are curious to know, but will local people always take the time to establish deeper relationships? Those who have lived several generations in an area will want to know what talents and stories newcomers bring with them. The “global village” grows with each encounter.

Our family lived in Regina’s ethnically-diverse inner-city for a quarter of a century. That’s where we raised our children. When I now drive through that Core community I no longer feel that I belong there, but I know that the community-building many of us did over past decades improved the area for today’s residents. It’s a better place to raise a child. Now, living in a resort village, I am indebted to those who went before, who made the village and adjacent town what it is. We are all indebted to those who came before and we owe it to those who will follow to continue to improve the community where we presently live. In this sense “the village” is a state of mind, an orientation to living, and always a work-in-progress.

Which brings to mind another saying, by renowned biologist Rene Dubos, that we now have to “think globally and act locally”. We don’t want to get overwhelmed or detached by a global perspective, though we now live fully in an interdependent world. Rather we want this new awareness to encourage and enrich us to do things to better our community so that it can better raise a child. And on it goes!

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