walking with

March 9, 2012


I want to tell you about something I saw on the television a few years ago. It’s a story I frequently tell parents in the parenting groups that I facilitate to demonstrate the difference between parenting through connection and using punitive discipline.

It was a reality show made in America. I have wracked my brain for ages and I cannot recall the name of the show.

It was a series where an American family would leave their modern, fast-paced, disconnected, frozen dinner every night style of life, and go for a week to live in a remote village overseas.

On one of these shows, a family of Mum, Dad, and three children, went to a small and remote village in one of the African nations. The villagers lived a traditional life in every way and lived in the desert with their cattle. There was one well in the village to provide drinking water for everyone.

Somehow, one of the American boys, perhaps about 8 years old, did something to contaminate the drinking water in the well. I don’t recall what he did, but there it was. Thus, the women of the village had to walk with their children and babies many hours to retrieve drinking water in pots on their heads.

At this point in the story, I usually ask how the villagers might have responded? Or sometimes if I’m being cheeky I might ask “Did this boy deserve a whooping?”

After the incident, the American parents were very angry and embarassed at their son’s actions. The village chief was a very kind and gentle man. The villagers were very kind and gentle.

The chief asked the boy to walk with him. They walked into the desert together.

When the chief and the boy returned maybe an hour later, the American parents asked their son what the chief had said to him. The boy said that the chief said nothing and he himself had said nothing but they just walked together. Then the boy broke down and sobbed his heart out. The chief gave everyone in the family a hug and said “he’ll be alright, he’s a good boy”. The family asked the chief if that’s how he sorts out problems in the village, and he replied that he takes people for a walk in the desert, saying something like “we go out and come back”.

The American family helped the villagers to retrieve water from the other site and to clean the water in the well.

This story always leaves an impression on parents. When we saw it on the telly my husband and I cried. It was beautiful, the sense of no matter what you have done we will be with you, walk with you, and we will work it out together. Belonging.

After ensuring their survival needs are met, humans have a fundamental need to belong. In this village, survival and belonging were regarded as the same.

The villagers had every right to be angry. Their life was hard and the incident made it even harder, threatened their survival. But they weren’t angry, they were kind. They had adopted the American family for the week they were there, they were their own, and there is no reason to be angry with one of your own.

I heard someone who was running a parent group recently say “when I discipline my children I make sure that I take something from them that is going to really hurt them”. That’s the parenting by pay-back and vengeance mode, and I was disappointed to hear it being advocated to parents who were supposed to be learning about positive parenting. What a shame and a wasted opportunity.

Go gently and kindly.


Image source:  http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~varanus/proposal.html

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About hakea

groupworker, parent educator, therapist, mother of three boys.

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24 Comments on “walking with”

  1. Karyn @ kloppenmum Says:

    I think there is also a real problem with western parents over talking, which comes through clearly in this story too. Thanks for sharing I’m going to try this with our kids and see what happens.


    • hakea Says:

      Hi Karyn

      Good to see ya!

      After I saw this show, I would take my boys for a walk up to the park at the end of the street, to collect gumnuts. We now have a few self-sown gum trees in our garden as I would sprinkle the gumnuts around the garden. They’ll probably grow to be enormous!


  2. Cjdwhite Says:

    I saw that episode, actually . I don’t know the name of the show either, but I believe it aired on our public television.
    I think the boy let their dog or a dog drink out of the water supply, which completely contaminated the water in their storage tank (or whatever container–I believe it was underground with a covered top), which they had just filled. They had strong beliefs about the contamination, although you or I might just let that go given the work to replace the water.
    I remember the graciousness of the tribe, who were indeed understated in their response to something that did nothing but cause them more work.


    • hakea Says:

      Hi CJ

      Wow! I’m so glad you saw it too. I have tried googling with all sorts of variations of searches to get the name of the show without success. Because I couldn’t find a trace of it, I started to wonder whether it was a figment of my imagination. It was probably about five years ago?Thanks for bearing witness!


  3. michael Says:

    I’d like to have something deep or profound to say to this post, but I don’t have many words. My response is rather to have a full heart. Sometimes a walk has immeasurable worth.


  4. Karyn @ kloppenmum Says:


    Good to be back! I would love to understand the neurology of all this. Those cortisol shots from knowing you’ve done the wrong thing and your parents disapprove (even if it’s the ole silent eye-brow rise) are pretty powerful…perhaps it’s the time to really feel the ‘wrong’, the silence to process for themselves and then physical action to disperse the adrenalin and cortisol? That would be my take on it. The problem is of course, that people don’t always have the time to deal with things with ‘a walk’ and if you’re the only adult around – who looks after the rest of the kids…Love using silence and use it a lot – just haven’t done it while walking.


    • hakea Says:

      Your questions and answers always get me thinking.

      I recently attended a workshop conducted by Dr Kent Hoffman from the US. He spoke about amygdala hijack and referred to Dr Dan Siegel’s work on fear responses, colloquially called “flipping the lid”. You may find your answer there?

      I think it’s a lovely metaphor “we go out and come back”. It can be done in the home with an activity. What kind of activity could produce the same amount of “holding” (Winnicott), space, and silence?

      I happened upon what I think is the most amazing piece of writing yesterday, where a mother described exactly this. In her words she was calmly surfing “a tidal wave of going-on four-ness” and the ability to be with her child through all of the ups and downs. It’s a must http://www.kellydiels.com/2010/04/10/love-fury-lol/.


      • Karyn @ kloppenmum Says:

        I have some of Dan Siegel’s books here – must re-read. I love the ‘we go out and come back’ metaphor too. Funnily enough this was one of the things the Steiner teachers suggested we do with Mr Hare when he first began kindy and we were beginning the reparenting process. I think I tried it once and found it too logisitically difficult, with (slightly manic) him at age four and high-needs Mr Owl in the sling, and then forgot about it. Even the quiet activity would be a bit of a challenge in our house with two small brothers around, but I will certainly think about it. Craig is going to watch the other boys if Mr H or Mr O need some walking time this weekend. Pleased that I get you thinking…I always find your posts a more calm version of my own and they too make me think – it’s great to have that!

      • hakea Says:

        I think the book you are looking for is Mindsight?

        Just like many traditional/Indigenous cultures, the Steiner culture has practices that are now being proven by science.

  5. Artful abuela Says:

    Reblogged this on The artful abuela and commented:
    this is one of the most beautiful stories i have had the privilege to read. i re-post hoping to share the blessing of these words; with families, teachers, lovers of our earth… just wonderful.


  6. Geoff Ferguson Says:

    Hi Hakea

    That’s a lovely story, thanks for sharing it. Not sure if the boy acted through negligence or a degree of naughtiness (if there’s a difference). Made me think about the way that sometimes we’re bad, because that’s better than being invisible. Like Winnicott’s ‘Delinquency as a sign of hope’. The silent walk in the desert sounds like a very intimate, shared experience in which the boy could feel truly seen and could then see the other and feel remorse. It’s a pity if the only way that we can be seen is to provoke punishment.

    All the best



    • hakea Says:

      Hi Geoff

      So lovely to see you here, thank you for your wise counsel.

      My impression was that he did something without thinking about the consequences.

      One of my favourite picture books is “Edwardo, the horriblest boy in the whole wide world” by John Burningham. I’m sure it was written for parents and teachers, and it is a story about what you mentioned here – delinquency as a sign of hope.

      Thank you Geoff.


  7. eof737 Says:

    What a beautiful share… and a great story! 🙂


  8. Elena Says:

    There must be some kind of loving magic that happens between parent and child (or chief and member of the group) for there to be such transformation in silence. What a lesson in trusting connection!


  9. InsideJourneys (@InsideJourneys) Says:

    Woaow, what a beautiful story!
    Belonging and knowing that your actions might be incorrect but you are still loved. I would have cried too, Narelle.


    • hakea Says:

      Hi Marcia



      • Rosie Says:

        thanks – such a beautiful story, and ‘great talent’ as they say in the media, to get – im sure it wasnt intentional, but wonderful experience out of that short time in the village, for the show! .. not easy for the village, for sure, but such a ‘we’ oriented response to an i-caused kind of dilemna.
        to be held like that, in the heart of things, wondrous!

      • hakea Says:

        Hi Rosie

        Thankyou for your poetic comment.


  1. Parents: Discipline and the Power of Silence | kloppenmum - March 11, 2012

    […] We turn off the tele if they’ve snuck it on Saturday morning while we’re still asleep. https://hakea.wordpress.com/2012/03/09/walking-with/ shows a great way to implement silent discipline – I am intrigued by it and can see […]

  2. Trusting Connection | Wise Way Tribe - March 15, 2012

    […] is a great blog post called walking with at hakea- reflections on living and working with kids that deals with this […]

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