One of my favorite things in my grandmother’s immaculate, plastic slipcovered living room was a lighted oil painting that hung above her sofa. It was a quaint, French village scene peppered with lampposts and the sheen of rain-soaked cobblestones. The brush strokes were beautiful in the daylight, but on the rare occasion when she would turn its lights on, the scene came alive. In those precious moments, my vivid imagination envisioned the citizens who lived in that picturesque place. There were children and parents, shop owners, and in-keepers. In that village filled with imaginary people, lives converged in every imaginable way. There, parents and teachers trained children; neighbors and clergy encouraged them; family and friends embraced them.

That imaginary place is not unlike our villages filled with family and peers. Whether you call it a village, tribe, or in today’s parlance—a network, it is where we draw inspiration, learn valuable lessons, hone skills, and share gifts. The core village usually begins with family and grows over time to include key members from the various areas of our lives like school, church, work, neighborhood, and business. I’ll bet you can quickly identify members of your village from the various ages and stages of your life. The faces of crucial members and the vital lessons learned there readily spring to mind without much effort.

One of the most important lessons to remember and share about the village is to remain close to it. Though time and circumstance pull us in different directions, the village should always be close to the heart and mind. Things learned in the village and from fellow villagers shape behavior, inspire change, encourage hearts, train the young, support the old. It becomes the garden from which the essential things in life grow. Many examples of this exist in nature. Take, for example, an ant colony. In it, there are three types of ants: the queen, the worker, and the male. Each one serves a specific purpose. The male ant’s job is to mate with future queens. Once he has completed his job, he dies. The worker ant has the task of defending the queen and fulfilling other duties to help the colony survive. The queen’s job once she reaches adulthood is to lay eggs. When the queen dies, the colony survives only months. Every one has a specific role that benefits the whole colony.

Have you seen footage of a beautiful dazzle of zebras traveling in unison across some desert plain? Their stripes seem to reflect the sun as they move together. This moving in harmony is a defense mechanism. As they move along, they appear to predators as one large animal rather than easily targeted individual prey. When a member of the group falls behind or wanders away, predators move in for the kill.

Large migratory birds fly in a V-formation, positioning their wings to catch the updraft of the bird in front of them and save energy. In these formations, the leaders periodically change. Whether because of age, experience or condition, the leadership changes, and the flights continue. Similarly, village membership also changes. Sage elders pass the torch to younger villagers who have been trained to lead their portions of the journey. When we all contribute and learn, the village thrives. It has a value that cannot be measured. It is a combination haven, support group, and university. In it, we find purpose and everything we need. Although it isn’t a perfect place (because we aren’t), it is a great place. Stay close to it. Contribute to it. Learn from it. In doing so, we help keep the predators away.

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The PlaygroundThe Village