village-fullcathy-headshotBy Cathy Hird

Between Our Steps

We have all been in this situation. We are standing in a long grocery store line when a baby starts to cry a couple of cashiers over. Strapped into a car seat attached to the cart, the child becomes frantic and, a moment later, screaming.
We've seen Mom hurry to unload the cart with lips pressed together. We've seen Dad tickle the toddler and reassure him or her it won't be long, while the child cries harder. People glare at the child and the parent, then turn away. We have seen a parent get so frazzled that they give up. They lift the child out of the cart and walk out of the store without their groceries. Everybody else relaxes, though there may be some comments made about the parent who had not realized the child was too tired for this task. A few will recount tales of their own challenges with sympathy.
With all those people around, the story does not have to go that way. There is a saying in West Africa that "it takes a village to raise a child." (You've probably heard the phrase: Hillary Clinton famously authored a book by this title in the 1990s.) What would we do differently if we took seriously the idea that the frantic child was not just the parent's responsibility, but ours?
We might step out of the place in our line and offer to unload the cart while Dad holds the child. We might ask Mom if we can hold the baby while she pays for the groceries. We would give up our spot in the line to calm the distressed child and the frazzled parent.
The African concept of "ubuntu" teaches that we are human in relationship. It means that we are what we are because of who we all are. No person is alone, and everyone is interconnected.
There was a time in our culture when we realized that it took an extended family to raise a child. Grandparents lived just down the road, and cousins hung around all the time. Parents and children were not isolated and alone.
Now grandparents come for a quick visit and return, happily, to their own lives. Cousins are replaced with paid baby sitters from down the road.
There are things we do to make connections. Parent and tot groups provide opportunities for kids to play together and parents to swap stories. My adult children are still friends with kids they were in day care with.
But there is a deeper sense of responsibility and connection that is missing.
One of the signs that we are keeping our distance from each other is the way we use the word "they." They made a strange decision. Did you see what they did? I don't understand how they could get into that much trouble.
The word "we" establishes a different relationship. If we include ourselves in the group that made the decision, we take responsibility for the consequences. If we are part of the same circle, we look for a way to influence what happens. If we include ourselves in the problem, we take responsibility for finding a way out of the trouble.
When tragedy hits somewhere in the world--a hurricane or an earthquake - we give to the red cross relief effort, we organize fundraising concerts. Why? Because we recognize that we are part of the same human family. We hurt when others are hurting.
The same applies closer to home. When they make a mistake in another part of an organization that we are part of, we can take responsibility and help figure a way to put things on a better track. We can think of each person we see as a neighbour, part of the same community, as our family. If we do, we will look for a way to help out our sister or our brother.
It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a community whose people look out for each other, to work through the challenges that each day presents.

Cathy Hird is a writer, minister and farmer who lives near Walter's Falls.