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It Takes a What?

It Takes a What?

In common U.S. English vernacular, the expression of “that takes the cake” or “it takes a village” can often be heard. Both are considered idioms or cliches according to published dictionary sources (The Free Dictionary by Farlex, 2023). The first refers to either a negative or a positive, with a meaning of something viewed as very negative or very positive. The second idiom, “it takes a village” is said to originate from an African Proverb or Native American saying and means an effort and successful outcome require, and gives credit to, the entire group of individuals involved in the effort, and not just one individual (Shipley & Posner, 2018). The full proverb is said to be “it takes a village to raise a child” which points out the complexity and type of environment and resources needed to raise a strong, healthy, contributing member of a people group from birth to adulthood.

Though one published credible source notes that origins of proverbs attributed to the continent of Africa are difficult to track down and source with a degree of certainty unless attributed to a specific people group (NPR, 2016), and sources for this idiom originating from Native American people groups are scarce, the meaning resonates with many different people groups around the world. Intuitively and logically, we know that complex endeavors, such as raising, educating, and socializing a child into a people group, require many sources of input, influence, and molding. This is a lived experience for me growing up influenced by Native American culture, living and working in East Africa and the U.S./Mexico border region.

Communal societies especially seem to understand the importance of not standing alone, not enduring the ups and downs and hardships of life without inspiration, support, and assist from others. I would say, that need and yearning is embedded – and embodied - in the essence of our humanity. Simon and Garfunkel pegged it right with their metaphorical speech in the1964 hit recording. “I am a rock” (, n.d.), lyrics written by Paul Simon, below.

A winter's day
In a deep and dark December

I am alone
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow
I am a rock I am an island

I've built walls
A fortress deep and mighty
That none may penetrate
I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pains
It's laughter and it's loving I disdain
I am a rock I am an island

Don't talk of love
Well I've heard the word before
It's sleeping in my memory
I won't disturb the slumber of feelings that have died
If I never loved I never would have cried
I am a rock I am an island

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor
Hiding in my room safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me
I am a rock I am an island

And a rock feels no pain
And an island never cries (, n.d.)


A quick perusal of Google regarding the meaning of the song revealed my reflections – and they are fitting for the purpose of the blog this month. That comparative meaning to the nursing world in February 2023 is … there are consequences for us as human beings when we close ourselves off from the fellowship and support of others to shield from further hurt. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, the world of nursing is a communal society. We are a holistic discipline, viewing an individual across the domains of human existence within a community of socio-cultural-political influences – and we generally work in teams. Walling ourselves off from others due to the severity and lack of support in our work environment can feel like a natural response, a self-protective one, but it hurts us and it hurts others. We need access to all our emotions - and we need each other in spite of our flaws and how we nurses sometimes act and react to each other. It is time for one of us living in a “walled off” world of “I am a Rock, I am an Island” ((Lyrics, com, n.d.) to make the first move and break down the walls!

How do we do that? First, we have to take care of the hurt that caused the walls to go up in the first place. Making the first move means finding out if we got it right in our interpretation of the event and what was said. Are we certain we interpreted the meaning behind the event correctly? Secondly, we have to “get the mad out.” This generally means allowing ourselves to feel the emotions behind the pain (tough to do when we are really hurting) and decompressing the emotion without shutting it off. The emotions behind the pain evoke powerlessness, and originate in “I-messages” such as “I’m not good enough” and/or “I’ve been misunderstood, treated unfairly, disrespected,” and often lead to all or nothing thinking of “all bad/all good.” To “get the mad out” – we have to deal with the emotion stemming from the thoughts about ourselves and others. We might need to talk with someone who “gets us”, who understands us, but can also offer support and objectivity about our hurt. We might need to cry or work out our mad via exercise or another healthy physical outlet. This is a big step if the walls are up, but a super important one for those with a big hurt that won’t go away. Thirdly, we might need to take an even bigger step and try to talk with the individual(s) who created our hurt – if that is advisable. If that step is taken, the mad has to go first to prevent the mad creating a higher wall between us and that person(s).

If keeping the walls up feels like the safer and more self-protective option, I have to ask, “is it worth it?” Is hanging on to the hurt and keeping the walls up going to cost you more in the long-run?

It’s Valentine’s Day month! How about sending ourselves a valentine, one that says “you’re worth it”, “I love you,” “make a move,” etc? Is it time to take some action on your own behalf to regain life balance and restore a sense of power and well-being? This Valentine’s month could be one of the most important and influential of your life and nursing career in regaining a sense of power, control, and life balance - moving ahead with your nursing education! We can help with that. Check out the current – and planned – future education offerings at Ottawa University.  

For Ottawa University Nursing exciting times are here. Speaking of a village of effort, OU is seeking approval for a new pre-licensure Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at the Overland Park, Kansas campus. If approved by the Board of Nursing, Ottawa University will be able to offer the current online RN-BSN and MSN, and a 16 month, eight 8-week term, pre-licensure BSN. This has been a true “labor of love” to boost the regional nursing workforce at a time of dire shortages.

References (n.d.). I am a rock. Paul Simon. (n.d.). I am a rock.

NPR (2016). It takes a village to determine the origins of an African proverb.

Shipley, T., & Posner, J. (2018). It takes a village to raise a child.

The Free Dictionary by Farlex (2023). Take the cake.



Posted: 02/10/2023
Updated: 02/10/2023 by Dr. Ruth L.M. Burkhart, DNP, MA, RN-BC, LPCC
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