We have been given two ears and one mouth so that we listen twice as much as we talk. We are to listen not just so we can talk, but so we can learn.
These wise words come from the lips of a number of elders that I have had the honor of knowing and their audience is typically children and youth.
“Listen to learn,” they tell the young people, our future leaders.
Listening with an open heart and mind is foundational to collaboration. I have witnessed conversations among traditional elders, often informally around a table over tea and food. One elder will share words while the others listen intently, leaning in closer to the speaker. They nod their heads and their facial expressions show they are taking the words to heart. After the speaker is finished the group will sit in silence, contemplating the words of the one who has shared their thoughts and feelings. This gives more than enough time for the speaker to add to or to continue to share. After a long period of silence the group may offer a reflection of what they had heard. Silence is not only acceptable but it is perfectly comfortable because elders often choose silence over filling the air with words. They know the power of words; they use them wisely.
One wise elder, the late Leonard Ward, shared that he had been taught that words are like bullets—once they are released, they cannot be taken back and they can injure or kill the spirit of another. When the spirit of another has been hurt that person may never be the same; they may carry the emotional scars of that experience for life. The inner helping gifts that they have been imbued with may be squelched because of those hurtful words and they may never shine the way they were meant to shine. A promising star in the constellation of humanity possibly snuffed out forever.
Facial expressions and body language are also important considerations. One pays attention to how their way of being in the presence of another may impact their spirit. The virtues of love, respect, kindness and generosity are actively modeled. We treat one another like the sacred gifts that we are because we are all considered children of the Creator.
In indigenous cultures, interdependence is valued. In their traditional villages people developed skills to maintain collaborative, reciprocal relationships. The survival of the village depended on sharing those skills and other imbued gifts. Elders tell me that when they awaken in the morning they thank Creator for their safe passage through the night and they ask for Creator’s help to come together with others in a good way to insure that healthy collaboration continues. The survival of the village depended on collaboration and interdependence. Everyone was considered to have leadership abilities. If you lived in such a village you would walk in the strong knowledge that your skill was integral to the spiritual, mental, and economic health of your community—a notion reiterated many times through the course of your life. Your carefully chosen names would reflect those gifts and skills, and mentorships would have been set up for you as you honed your skill set. You would be celebrated in ceremony where your skills and gifts would be highlighted so that everyone in the village would be aware of them. When the need for your particular skill was required you would step into leadership and you would have the support of others as they take your lead.
In western culture, one is considered successful when one can operate autonomously. Independence, financial success, and competition are valued and celebrated. The system is hierarchical and a somewhat sad, stark contrast to the interdependent, collaborative model of the traditional village where wealth is shared and generosity celebrated. Listening deeply to others from a place of respect and humility, with a willingness to learn provides us with opportunities to become more like a Village.
Kathi Camilleri will be sharing Indigenous Wisdom: Welcome Home to Your Village at Hollyhock on July 4-8, 2018.
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