It Takes a Village

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It takes a village.

While working remotely helping my 70-year old father set up his home in western Greece, I found myself surrounded by nothing but wilderness, mountains, and extended family.  After living in a village, in a country with starkly different values than in the US, there is no denying how deeply divided we are over our values and how much it impacts our local communities in South Florida.

Riots and conflicts are heard around the world, and with as angry as people are, it’s a wonder we’ve made it this far. When Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote the book It Takes a Village, she wasn’t kidding.

Westboro Baptist Church is picketing Robin Willams’ funeral and racial unrest and murders are again sweeping the United States. Yet here, in a village a world away, pleasantries dominate dialogue, the people who are working work hard, and private moral issues don’t seem to be anyone’s concern because it’s acknowledged that families come in all forms, like it or not. The villages are havens for people of similar values and people work hard to support their friends and family.

I left my own version of a village in Pennsylvania at 22 for the same reason my father immigrated to America, for kalýteri zoí — loosely translated to mean “for a better life.” The concept is so common in Greece that you cannot find someone who doesn’t know someone who moved to the United States — at least for a little while — to find a better life for themselves and their family.

Moving for a better life was expected of me.

But migrating isn’t easy, and we aren’t making it any easier to immigrate, especially to South Florida. There is no formal schooling in the village anymore and there hasn’t been any since the days my father lived there. He learned everything he needed to know by the fourth grade, including enough English to survive in the United States and he left home by 12 years old.

I am hard pressed, however, to believe he was allowed to attain a much better life for himself in America, and I can’t say things were made easy for his children either.

Yet, from the small village perspective, it’s hard to generalize Greek people as having no work ethic, and it isn’t difficult to see the depth of government corruption. People do want an opportunity for a better life and it’s hard to imagine such a life without peaceful coexistence with the people in these villages on this side of the world, and even more arrogant to believe we collectively have the right to live forever, have more children than we can afford, pollute the planet, and destroy the much simpler ways of living appreciated in these villages.

Television comes via antenna, and most of what people eat is either grown or kept in the form of livestock. Living appears to be fulfilling, aging the way of life, and death a fact of life. It’s simple. Everyday life presents issues that are much more pressing and the village works like an organism, a shockingly peaceful organism when its left in peace.

People in the United States have a number of ways they create their own villages. Some support nonprofits. Other people support local churches. We celebrate national holidays together and participate in the political process, if we are smart. We find our own ways to seek out like-minded people.

But our hyper-fixation on what people are doing in their private lives seems all the more appalling from mountains rarely visited by the outside world. People picketing Robin Williams’ funeral to make a political or religious point is outrageous and not at all what villagers imagined they could accomplish by helping their families move far, far away so their children could find kalýteri zoí.

Village life is definitely on the decline in the United States, and as long as we are conflicted about what is lawful and what is socially just pertaining to the private affairs of other’s, this illusion of a better life is just that — an illusion.

We are making progress, but overcoming conflict and adversity can only be achieved through the types of compromises found in these small communities. It should be as simple as allowing individuals to find and create their own social norms, or to be allowed to move to places where people share values and are disciplined enough to keep from injecting themselves in the private affairs of others.

Copyright © 2014, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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