In September 2022, DAAJI released his latest book, The Wisdom Bridge, which is already a national bestseller. Throughout 2023, we’ll be sharing excerpts from the various chapters of this insightful book to give you a taste of the wisdom it offers. This month, Daaji focuses on Principle 1 – it takes a village to raise a child.
THE WISDOM BRIDGE SERIES
A Village Is the People, Not the Place
Raising a child is a team effort. Mother, father, grandfather, grandmother, uncles, aunts, teachers, and caregivers all play an essential role in a child’s life. And when the village comes together, the child thrives.
The village is not the place, it’s the people.
A few generations ago, whether one was rich or poor, educated or illiterate, everyone had a village to count on. But not anymore. Today, most of us live far away from our parents and grandparents. Even if we wish to live close by, it’s not easy. Our homes are smaller, lifestyles are different and our jobs can take us from one city to another. Moreover, the Covid-19 pandemic has upended our travelling habits. So, in these changing times, how do we recreate the togetherness of the village?
Where there is heart, there is love; and
love strengthens togetherness.
By “togetherness,” I mean the togetherness of hearts. It’s the kindred feeling of closeness we experience with loved ones. Togetherness is the soul of this book and it’s expressed in the idea that humanity thrives when we nurture the bonds that connect us. And this nurturing begins in the family and continues in the village.
The African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” conveys the idea of togetherness. Throughout this book, I share ideas and practices to rekindle that sense of connection, togetherness, of community in the modern setting. So whether you’re an urban couple with bouncy toddlers, an iPad-ninja grandfather, or a diligent caregiver, this book helps you bring your heart into your relationships. And where there is heart, there is love; and love strengthens togetherness. I was blessed to experience such love in the village that raised me.
The Village Offered Togetherness and Support
I was born in the autumn of 1956, in a village named Kalla in Gujarat, India. Kalla was dusty brown in the summers, fresh green during the monsoons, and always golden in my heart. We had fewer than fifty families in the village, and most of our homes were along one main street. The two places for people to gather were the temple and the mosque.
My father was an ayurvedic doctor, and he treated various ailments of the people in the village. His practice was mostly pro bono. We had some farmland near the river and my father worked in the fields too. The produce from the farms put the food on the table.
We didn’t have a table though. We sat on the ground and ate. Even though our house was sparse, what gave it a special grace was my grandmother’s presence. Her genteel nature dignified everything, even our modest means. She was a source of moral support for my mother, who toiled away to take care of the home and raise five children. We were two brothers and three sisters. I was the fourth child, and my younger sister was the fifth. There were many children in Kalla, and we all played together. I was too naughty for my own good and often got into trouble.
When I compare my childhood and that of my grand children, what stands out the most is the freedom that we enjoyed. My childhood was carefree, free-spirited, and had a sense of openness that is missing today. These days, children who live close enough to do so rarely walk to school. When I was growing up, we walked to school and, even better, ran home. Today, while children play outside, parents are expected to hover nearby. When we used to play, we would run around in open spaces like wild horses until sundown, and the surveillance network of grandmothers watched over all of us giving the parents much-needed reassurance that someone had their eyes on the children. As a child, life in Kalla was much freer. For instance, I could eat at anyone’s house, and it was a normal thing to do. On most days, some friend or the other would eat with us. And it wasn’t uncommon for me to down two lunches, one at home and the other at someone else’s house, because they made what I liked. Also in those days, we children never carried a water bottle around. If you felt thirsty, you knocked at someone’s door and drank some water. Same went for using the restroom. If you had to go, you simply knocked on the door, asked for permission and that was that. The children felt a sense of belonging to a community. They didn’t face a sense of rejection. Children were welcome everywhere, and as a result their confidence and sense of self developed well.
We can’t change the society at large,
but in our families, we can focus more on
loving the child and making the child feel secure.
The other noticeable difference is in making children feel special versus making them feel secure. During my childhood, we grew up with the sense of security that came from the love and care of the family and community. But I don’t remember that I was made to feel special or gifted in any way. Nowadays, I see an increased emphasis on making our children feel special and talented. When the spotlight shifts from providing a sense of security to making the child feel special for their talents, it breeds insecurity, first in the parents and then the children.
When the children are made to feel special, then the focus is on their accomplishments and the result is an overcrowded shelf of medals and trophies. Encouragement is good, but persist entre cognition does a disservice by putting the children under pressure to perform. We can’t change the society at large, but in our families, we can focus more on loving the child and making the child feel secure.
Whether children win or lose, celebrate their efforts
with small gestures – a weekend ice cream,
maybe a movie night, or a note at their table – and then move on.
The focus should be on the future. Such an approach
will help them take both wins and losses in stride,
because neither means the loss of love.
Don’t praise children too much. For children, praise is a sound whose echo registers as a warning in a subtle way. They may get ideas like, “What if next time I am not able?”, “What if I can’t?” and so on.
Besides this, persistent praise leads children to correlate your love and attention with their accomplishments. They begin feeling that “If I do well, Mother and Father will love me even more.” As parents, acknowledge the child’s efforts over the results. Whether children win or lose, celebrate their efforts with small gestures – a weekend ice cream, maybe a movie night, or a not eat their table – and then move on. The focus should be on the future. Such an approach will help them take both wins and losses in stride, because neither means the loss of love.
Praise can also be expressed by throwing over-the-top birthdays and sweet-sixteen bashes, which are common nowadays. When we were young, we never celebrated birthdays. In most cases, families would make a note of the time and alignment of stars as per the calendar to draw up a horoscope of the child. Sometimes mothers would make a sweet dish, but other than that, birthdays were not a thing. Children were loved, cared for and no spotlight attention was given to make the child feel special and gifted.
The way we socialized back then was also different. There was no show-off culture, perhaps because there were no televisions in Kalla (that we had no electricity might have something to do with it). My father encouraged me to read aloud chapters from the Mahabharata every night. This reading became my primary activity during the monsoon of 1965. I was nine years old then. Old and young from nearby homes would finish their dinner and come to our house. I would begin reading under the warm glow of the hanging lantern, and it went on for about an hour. I loved those sessions!
Evenings like those were a welcome reprieve for my parents, who had many things to worry about. Life was simple, but it was not easy. After all, raising five children and taking care of my grandmother on our modest means was not easy. But there was one thing my parents didn’t have to worry about. And that was support.
While my mother was working at home and my father was in the fields, they didn’t have to worry about the children. My parents were not alone in raising us. The village was our family. All five of us siblings grew up under the loving care of our parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts. It was common for an elder of the house to discipline any child in the family or even a child of the neighbor’s family. I know this very well because I was usually at the receiving end.
The elders would be the support system
of not only the children, but of the young people in the village.
The elders were strict, but in hindsight, their discipline paled in comparison to their overarching love for us all. The elders, especially the grandparents, had ample time and made the effort to pass on the morals. Through stories, poems, and various anecdotes, they taught us about honesty, devotion, reverence, and faith. The elders would be the support system of not only the children, but of the young people in the village.
While the large families of the past had their advantages, there were some problems too. Everything from tooth paste to finances were shared amongst the family, which would sometimes cause friction. The decision-making was strictly top-down, and the elders made decisions, keeping in mind the greater good of the family. For example, marriage was a social arrangement where two families came together. The norm was that you loved the one you married. Women were respected, but they were not empowered. They sacrificed a lot for the family but had no say in property rights.
Another big problem was healthcare, especially in dealing with infections. Hygiene was poor and infections would spread fast. Women often died during childbirth. Many children were also lost during birth. The past was not perfect, and this is true for most families.
Research shows that the village matters.
The village is vital for the social and emotional
well-being of our children.
In contrast, in today’s families, younger people have much greater freedom in decision-making. Technology, healthcare, and education have improved our quality of life. And while we still have a long way to go, the status of women in families and society has improved. But what happened to the village? What about the sense of community that we took for granted?
Research shows that good relationships keep us happier and healthier. The most comprehensive study on happiness, the Harvard Adult Study,1 spanning over eighty-two years of research, shows that the village matters. The village is vital for the social and emotional well-being of our children.
To be continued.
Illustrations by ARATI SHEDDE
Kamlesh Patel is known to many as Daaji. He is the Heartfulness Guide in a tradition of Yoga meditation that is over 100 years old, overseeing 14,000 certified Heartfulness trainers and many volunteers in over 160 countries. He is an innovator and researcher, equally at home in the fields of spirituality and science, blending the... Read more
This article was read with fond memories of the part and parcel of it.
What resonates is, “It still takes a village to raise a child.”
Longing to get hold of this most relevant book. Thanks Daaji.
I could relate to whatever has been mentioned. We too had loving grandparents and lived a carefree life.
I really liked the conversation and already ordered the book. At times too much protection for the kids is really a worry, unlike we faced our own life survival challenges. Children need to respect the efforts of their parents and grandparents, and they have a moral responsibility as well!