It Takes A Village to Raise a Child.

This ancient African proverb teaches eternal truth. No man, woman, or family is an island. But in these the lean and mean days, community isn't always what it is supposed to be. We'd all like to think we live in a place where people care about others -- where people pitch in to help when things get rough -- where it's safe to leave the doors unlocked and let the kids play around outside.

This isn't always what we experience. Instead of community, we find alienation; looking for safety, we are attacked by crime; hoping for a better life for our kids, we encounter gangs and drugs and the lies of television. People often retreat behind closed and double locked doors and try to ignore their neighbors. Politicians preach envy and hate, dividing us further instead of working for reconciliation. Being poor these days just ain't what it used to be.

Nobody Is An Island

During the Depression, there was plenty of poverty and misery. Jim Crow segregation viciously discriminated against peaceful, industrious, law-abiding citizens. The very face of the earth seemed turned against us, as the skies were darkened by the choking dust storms of the 1930s. People had many reasons to feel sorry for themselves. They call it the Depression because that's just exactly what it was. You know how you feel when you're depressed. Imagine how it is when the whole country gets that way at the same time.

But people connected with each other during the Depression. They had family and friends around them. Everybody was broke and so everybody was in the same boat. And as everyone who is poor knows, there is nobody who is more generous than another poor person. So people helped each other out. Not only with the physical necessities of life -- such as food, clothing and shelter - - but also with the spiritual and emotional necessities. It's pretty awful when you feel like you are all alone and the whole world is against you.

Today poor people are pawns in games of poli-tricks. People say, "Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, my grandfather did". But many of those "bootstraps" are no longer available today. And the first problem is that the supportive community of our grandparents day, the village, the neighborhood, that place where people looked out for each other and supported each other, where they shared joys and sorrows, good times and bad times, in many places is no more. It has gone the way of the gaslight, the horse, and the buggy. We pay a big price for that loss of kinship and solidarity.

Life is easier when you are part of a network of friends and family, a neighborhood.

It does take a village, to work with the family, to raise a child and weather the storms of life. If we want that kind of support, the place to begin is with ourselves. Community, like charity, begins at home. You start building a good neighborhood when you yourself decide that you will be a good neighbor. If you don't know anyone on your block, you can take the initiative. You can bake some bread and take it to your neighbors and introduce yourself. You can join a church and become part of that community. Reach out to your own network of friends and start building community.

There are many things that we just don't have much control over. But like eating good food, building community is something that you can do, right here, right now, in the place where you are now -- whether or not you have a job, an education, or a car. Be the first one on your block to reach out and touch your neighbor. Find a new sense of purpose and life on your street. Make your neighborhood your village and find the truth that humans have learned the hard way. United we stand, divided we fall -- cooperation is as important as competition. Maybe, at certain times and places, it's more important. RMW
You start building a good neighborhood when you yourself decide that you will be a good neighbor.

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For information about our plans for adapting our"urban homestead" to meet the looming challenges of peak oil, climate instability, and economic irrationality, see Gatewood Urban Homestead, the permaculture design for our home.

Robert Waldrop