I have always been at best ambivalent about living in villages, and I have lived in my fair share, both of the literal and metaphorical variety. There was once a book, highly derided, that claimed that it took a village to raise a child, in that more than nuclear families but whole communities were necessary to raise well-functioning youth according to the author. Often it appears that nuclear families and communities can either be in cahoots or in conflict, and I have found that both of those circumstances can present their own challenges and difficulties.
In our present society, it appears that the village (if you may call it that) and the family are often at odds. In Portland, for example, there is a tax for vote on something called the Children’s Levy that offers funding for a variety of programs that purport to help feed children and protect them from abuse, the sort of thing that ought not to be the job of the government in the first place. It is, after all, the job of family to provide for and protect their own family members. Most of the families I know (apart from seriously dysfunctional ones) tend to do this job fairly well to the best of their abilities, and the difficulties they face are generally not the kind of difficulties that are best solved by taxation and government regulation, but rather the sort of difficulties that would be best solved by well-functioning local communities of businesses and churches that can act in socially responsible ways that put godly beliefs into practice and seek the common good and not only our own selfish benefit.
In such circumstances, governments can often be rivals of parents when it comes to the parental and familial duties of education and child care. Today at church I had the chance to hear a particularly harrowing tale about the abuse heaped on an acquaintance through misguided and abusive public educators. My own experiences in public education included massive amounts of bullying and teasing, death threats, and a generally poor social environment, which was far from a pleasant experience in many respects. In many cases, families (or groups of families) can do a better job at education than the government at a vastly lower cost . All too often it appears that power and control of scarce resources matters more than actual performance.
There are villages, in the metaphorical sense, where family interests and community interests coincide. One would think automatically that this was a better world, but my own experiences with this have been far from unalloyed joy either. In my own personal experiences as a social outsider from a family that is not particularly cohesive, I have found it difficult to feel comfortable in a world dominated by large clans which I am not a part of whose ability to influence and even control authority has made my own existence more stressful. In addition, I have found a great deal of such villages to be fairly gossipy places, and I have not fared very well personally in such an environment, though I suppose were I better at avoiding being on the outside and felt comfortable on the inside and welcomed, I would not find such tendencies so problematic.
It would appear as if the fate of an outsider in either situation between the village and the family is not an ideal one in the case where both the village and the family are broken. When both are whole, institutions may work together for the benefit of all, as the community builds up its families, shows them respect and honor, and supports their efforts to provide for the safety and well-being of their members. Where one institution is more whole than the other, it will seek to take the authority of the other under its own wing. If a community is more robust and whole than its families, it will try to do the jobs of the family (with great losses in efficiency and in the education of personal responsibility). If families are more robust than a community, than the common good will often be sacrificed for the good of elite families who are able to capture positions and titles within the community for their own benefit. Neither of those options is a particularly pleasant one.
How are we to find a better way? We must ultimately build up both the family and the community. By building up the family, by seeking to provide for the well-being and the safety of its members, we help provide parents and children and cousins and other relatives with honor and respect and a safe place in an often dangerous world. We encourage those habits that lead children to grow up respectful and responsible people whose moral and intellectual education have not been hindered by chaos and anarchy or whose personal growth is not stunted by abuse and tyranny. It takes good families to build a good society.
It also takes a good community to lead to a godly society. We are not only members of families but we all serve responsibilities in local communities given our gainful employment as well as our discharging of civic duties and community service. In building up communities that do not serve the interests of only a narrow elite or powerful families, but rather serve the genuine and deepest interests of the common good, we build places that are welcoming to rootless but decent outsiders seeking a better life and serve to find an honored and worthy place for all of their citizens, so that no one needs to be an outcast or a stranger.
Ultimately, a good society has several characteristics. It is egalitarian and serves the interests of all rather than elite or special classes of people or those who have the wealth and power to game the system in their favor. It is welcoming and provides a safe and an honored place to all people as the children of the Most High, a place where talents and gifts can be developed and used for service to others. It provides a model of honorable and godly conduct, serving as an example for others as well as bolstering and supporting godly conduct in other related institutions like businesses and families and churches. It provides a place for a balance between individual development of all of the people it deals with as well as the greater good far outside of its own borders and confines. Such a society is difficult to construct and even difficult to envision, but the end goal of any worthwhile efforts for individuals, families, and villages, even gossipy ones.