It Takes a Village

According to some, the therapy industry thrives largely because our parents didn’t give us everything we needed to grow up happy and safe. Apparently in order to heal, we first need to recognise their failures; naturally, such recognition generally releases tears, anger and indignation. For healing of the whole family, however, it helps to recognise that our parents couldn’t give us everything we needed.

There is a saying that it takes a village to raise a child. Over countless thousands of years human children, like many other young animals, grew up in large family groups. They learnt from, and were nurtured by, the whole community. If you were quite different from either of your parents, there would probably be someone around who was enough like you to recognise what you needed to grow well. Crafters, healers or musicians would teach their skills to those youngsters who showed promise, or interest.

Today, it’s usually down to a small family unit to provide everything; no wonder it’s not always sufficient, however hard the family tries…

In the pre-civilisation extended family group, it wouldn’t matter if some adults’ primary skills and interests were something other than parenting; there would be more than enough protection from the group’s natural guardians, cuddles from the natural nurturers, and instruction from the natural teachers, to go round. Older children would lead play with younger children. There would be less need of fierce competition for attention, for love; and the older children would learn important caring skills.


As in any primate group, emerging warriors could try out their strength, power and sexuality against those of a similar calibre and appetite, rather than immature, unready siblings too weak to offer a match. I meet many in my ‘soul coach’ practice who were damaged by such encounters. But the young adult, the emerging warrior, feel they must try themselves somewhere.

In healthy tribal groups, adults would feel deeply connected instead of isolated; reaffirmed daily by playing their vital role in the group, and by real, unambiguous contact. Old people would not experience long groundhog days of loneliness; they’d generally be loved and respected. Communities would benefit from their long-accumulated wisdom, and their knowledge of a wider community: the myriad familiar plants and other living beings, the land our very sustenance comes from.

Small wonder there is so much depression, anxiety, stress and loneliness; so much addiction, medication and suicide. Small wonder so many have difficult relationships with basic and natural aspects of humanity such as sex, power and attachment. Small wonder so many are plagued by guilt:  parents who could not be everything, brothers and sisters who mistreated siblings, siblings who let it happen, families who don’t know what to do with their elders.

Community has been gradually eroded by ‘progression’, its loss greatly accelerated by the industrial revolution. Local ‘tribes’, with their ancient, interweaving stories, can never be recreated.  Protection, instruction and cuddles are outsourced to strangers (some of whom do a better job than others). A monetised, disconnected ‘village’ is encouraged by the state, because it grows GDP. This breeds fear of those outside the family unit; children are taught young not to trust.

Okay, here’s the obligatory ‘utopia’ disclaimer:  community, of course, was never perfect. In losing the best of community we also lose the worst, including the long feuds, the petty conflicts, the lack of privacy. But even with all that, tribal living was probably a lot more emotionally healthy and more balanced than the societies most of us inhabit today.

However, it’s immensely heartening to see how easily and quickly the best of community can be recreated: in streets and neighbourhoods, through places like the Lammas Eco Village, by organisations like the Network of Wellbeing, societies of shared interests or values, in families and online everywhere. Conflict may still arise: this will always happen where there are humans. But in healthy community, conflict is recognised, named and carefully negotiated.

Thankfully, humanity has realised what we were in danger of losing forever. Community in its many forms is beginning to burgeon again, in myriad collective, creative responses: in cities and in valleys where the candle of community has been lit, and is holding fast, even in the cold wind of the 21st century.

It seems we really can use our collective wisdom, creativity and intention to find ways for our children to be raised by healthy, thriving, diverse ‘villages’. When we are able do this enough, maybe we are able to reclaim healthy adulthood, meaningful lives – and true community, at its best.

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