How Valuing Family Above Community Places Us at Greater Risk: The Obscure Divisiveness of "Family First"
The Amalgamation of Family and Community
There's nothing new about stressing the importance of family. Nor is there anything new about the virtue of doing so. Prioritizing the safety and welfare of one's family is unarguably a sign of one's upstanding character, both in claim and practice. No matter what area of life is concerned, placing family at the forefront of one's social, political, and economic aspirations is a societal normative that goes virtually uncontested by society itself. It has become woven into the fabric of our social ethos to prioritize family above all else. When, in the course of our daily lives, the utmost prioritization of family is declared or demonstrated, it is praised, congratulated, and respected regardless of what circumstances surround the situation. It would seem as though the moral righteousness of placing family above everything is both universally accepted and respected. Nevertheless, the ethical nobility of placing a premium value on family seems to have gone unquestioned and unanalyzed for centuries. This dogmatic attitude towards family vis-a-vis community offers some social implications that on the surface appear righteous and justified. Yet a closer look at the effects of such an indoctrinated mindset may offer more contrast than expected.
How "Family First" Can Be Divisive
When family is the basis of one's moral code, it dictates both the direction and nature of our relationship with the rest of society; especially our immediate community. The impact that a family first mentality has on the larger community to which we belong - be it geographically or identity - can be, and usually is, divisive. The attitude that is adopted by those who place the importance of family above the importance of community is one that bears underlying contention and competition. The amiability and cohesion of community is only important up until a family member's safety or welfare is jeopardized. If and when this happens, it elicits an "us vs them" mentality that divides the community into sections of itself until it can no longer be recognized as a true community, and can only be considered one based on proximity. Yet, the relationships are anything but communal. The sociological effects of a family first attitude remove the individual from their instrumental role in the community. The irony in sacrificing communal harmony for family security is that in doing so, it places the family at greater risk. We become polarized and competitive with the same people we should be cooperating and building. Remaining in a perpetual state of subcutaneous conflict with the community means that the family we value so highly is in a perpetual state of threat. This threat is engendered by a perennial mentality that sees all others as outsiders, alien, untrustworthy, inferior, and worst of all, unworthy of the same love, respect, patience, understanding, and acceptance that we afford our family.
Imagine the Possibilities
Nevertheless, we still cannot deny the importance of family. Family relationships are essential to building strong, confident identity and character. However, what would happen if we started to value community with the same alacrity that we value family? Instead of sacrificing community for family, what if we held both community and family in equal regard with the same standards and expectations? The idea that "it takes a village to raise a child" might be extended beyond blood relations to include communal relations. This idea could even burgeon into a community that was more kid/parent compatible. We could take the value that we place on CEOs, bosses, and politicians and transfer it to mothers, fathers, and children. Community protection could very well be the norm rather than the exception. We wouldn't have to raise our children in an atmosphere of fear. The warning of not talking to strangers would dissolve because a stranger would be an exception not the norm. And any time a child did encounter a stranger, we would be able to rely on any fellow community members in the vicinity to offer protection for the child. The influence, support, and dependability we usually associate with family would be extended to include community.
How Parenting Might Look
It's no secret that the terrible twos can try the patience of any parent. When a child displays the behavior typically associated with the terrible twos in public, the embarrassment it causes the parent only adds to the stress of dealing with an ornery and unruly child who, by reason of biological expectation, is only behaving within the natural course of their development. This embarrassment generally stems from onlookers who witness the scene and often tend to stare. Even if no judgement is intended to be passed, the attention the scene commands is undeniable. Then, there are those who stare specifically to pass judgement, make snide comments, or project other such callous and apathetic mentalities towards the parent and the child alike. In a society that holds a tantamount value on community as it does on family, this scenario would play out very differently. People in the community would offer to help calm the child, care for the child while the mother or father finished their task, or offer other supportive functions. This would not only be socially acceptable but, it would be a social normative. The tumult and frustration of raising young children would be mitigated by the support of community instead of exacerbated by it's voyeurism.
Answering the Social Ills Question
Social ills like crime and addiction would also be effected by exhibiting a marked reduction in their occurrences. Stronger community ties, a sense of personal responsibility to those with whom we share community, and a subsequent willingness to address these issues as a community would become the expected course of action. Rather than looking the other way, absolving ourselves of the issue, and abandoning the toxic accusatory and grossly inaccurate mentality that they're just moral failures, the community would unify to address these issues under the more accurate assumption of social responsibility due to a vested interest in the health and safety of the individual as a conduit to the health and safety of the community. In Japan, there is a widespread epidemic of what's called chikan. Chikan is a group of men who publicly molest women during the morning commute on the subway. Because the train cars are so packed, these men are able to get away with slipping their hands inside women's shirts, unhooking women's bras, sliding their hands under their skirts, and a whole litany of other personal violations against women's bodies. The police and train conductors do very little about it and most even refuse to acknowledge the problem as an epidemic. Nevertheless, the complaints and reports being made have been frequent enough that officials have designated certain train cars as "women only" cars. This is an obvious admission in and of itself, yet it forces the victims to be responsible for their own victimization instead of attacking the problem at its core. The prevailing diagnosis for tolerating these egregious violations towards women is the decorum and traditional polite manners that are so ingrained within Japanese culture. Bystanders, witnesses and victims alike are afraid of social chastisement for offending the offenders when these violations are noticed. And on a commuter system with 15 million daily users, how could they possibly go unnoticed? Nevertheless, at the risk of sounding ethnocentric, is it unreasonable to assume that these violations would not only be noticed but also checked and immediately curtailed if a brother was on the train next to his sister and a chikan targeted her? Are we really to believe that decorum and social convention would still win out over the protection of those we feel a sense of personal responsibility towards if a chikan exercising his perversion on a woman with her father standing right next to her? This same mentality needs to be extended beyond the confines of family relations. The issue of chikan as a social epidemic would never even have the chance to proliferate. Once this pathological behavior began to exhibit itself in the members of the community, the rest of the community would unite in nipping this behavior in the bud. Moreover, any chikan that happened to slip through the fingers of community welfare would be hard pressed to find any woman in a vulnerable enough situation to risk molesting her due to the strong ties she would inevitably have with the rest of the community.
What We Can Learn From Other Cultures
There is a centuries old African philosophy known in Zulu as Ubuntu. Essentially, this philosophy translates to "I am because we are" but is often also used in a more philosophical sense to mean "the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity ." The philosophy and practice of Ubuntu societies focuses on the welfare and safety of the individual through the welfare and safety of the community. The concept of personal responsibility is realized through one's responsibility to the entire community. In Ubuntu societies, poverty, homelessness, hunger, and other social ills which our society considers normal are virtually unheard of. Visitors need not worry about provisions or accommodations. Hospitality without payment is the social expectation of ubuntu societies. Orphans do not exist in ubuntu communities since the role of mother and father is shared by the whole community. Furthermore, it would never occur to anyone within an ubuntu community to allow a child to be an orphan due to the socialization and customs expected within the social structure. While individualism is eliminated and replaced with the larger societal identity within the community member, one's individuality is still fostered through their value within, and contribution to, the community. Families are reflected in the individual, which is a phenomenon that extends to the villages, districts, provinces and regions being portrayed in the individual.
... So In Conclusion
When community becomes extended family, the relationships we have with each other become more substantial and as such, the conditions of the entire community improve. Rather than a parochial focus on narrow self interests that only sporadically extend beyond blood relations, and which result in suspicion and opposition, an equal emphasis on both family and community will build stronger ties, reduce poverty, violence, crime, psychological pathologies such as addiction and emotional codependency, and other social deviations as well as naturally progress the community for it's own entire benefit. Each and every member of the community is organically endowed with a sense of purpose and belonging. Education and labor become cooperative rather than competitive. Support networks are built. Progress becomes a social concern rather than an individual one. The importance of family becomes an issue that is tended to and cultivated through the safety and welfare of the community. Instead of sacrificing community for family, community is treated as an extension of family. Both service to and benefit from the community become the core tenets by which we care for our family. This, then, becomes the norm by which our societies develop and evolve. What ubuntu societies have known for centuries, and what we would do well to learn and implement, is that it can never be an "us vs. them" situation once we realize that we are them.
© 2019 Caleb Murphey