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listening for now

September 11, 2011

Talked with a carver this week about the grain of walrus and narwhal tusk, scientific study vs Inuit knowledge, the intelligence of polar bear and walrus, proposed mining and how survival depends on the creatures of land and sea more than on dollars, but once money is coming in it talks louder than people who speak for the land.

I’m conflicted about how to interact.

My understanding is that younger Inuit people are supposed to watch and listen to their Inuit elders, not ask questions. White folks like me talk a lot. It’s amazing how much air we fill with noise. I caught myself interrupting a silence with questions when this man was not actually finished speaking. I listened without offering my opinion when he spoke about Southern scientists who say polar bears are disappearing while Inuit hunters say they are not.

As a woman who’s fought to be heard for years and learned to speak out, I was thinking, “How come this man gets to do all the talking and decide what we talk about and what we don’t?” As a Qallunaut from a colonising culture, I was thinking, “He has probably heard enough of what people like me have to say.” Is it more insulting/respectful to say my piece, or to keep it to myself?

I’m hoping to find places and ways for people like the artist and me to speak together and see what might find itself between our different perspectives. How will we build relationship if I don’t slow down? How will we build relationship if I don’t show myself?

(And how do I connect with community if I am expected to sit in my office from 830-5, no matter how many hours I spend working at home.)

Maybe not-talking actually does show something about me, more than a bunch of words and opinions would.

For now, I’m paying attention, and trying to listen more than I speak.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Mum permalink
    September 14, 2011 4:21 am

    In other cultures that I have experienced, you listen without interrupting. There is also an unspoken rule that you do not speak until asked to speak or questioned. Maybe that is where you are confused. Wouldn’t an elder advise you on this? In Cree you do not ask questions of elders, but wait until they think you are ready for the info. Surely someone in the Inuit culture would help you with this because I am sure that there are subtleties that are different from those that I have experienced. Ask! because most cultures that I have been exposed to are happy that you are interested in understanding their way of looking at life.

    • September 15, 2011 1:51 am

      On asking questions, and on Eldership:

      I’ve been teaching about ways to inquire together with clients, not just to gather data for the nurse but, through exploring together, to help clients make meaning of their own lives and come to see things in ways which are helpful. Those are the kinds of questions I want to be asking. Looking at things together with others, with curiosity and not-knowing, and watching our worlds shift and possibly open to more comfortable (inclusive, free…) ways. There’s so much yummy theory behind these ways, and I love being able to open my own mind again as I learn with my students.

      Sometimes when I ask questions out loud, I end up more confused. I think I’m onto something and I check it out with someone – “Am I understanding what I just experienced accurately?” “Oh, no, it’s not like that. It was just this.” So there goes whatever brilliant theory I just muddled my way towards … or does it?

      What makes an Elder? Age alone, or something else? A way of seeing things which is useful to others, or a role in the community which is helpful in some way, or an integrity? In this time of such fast and huge change, many perspectives are needed, and people of different generations may need to be listening to each other in ways they are not used to doing. People may need to step forward into roles which are not traditionally approved, in order for us all to move forward together. Isn’t that what I’m doing here? Stepping outside of what’s familiar, trying to help something good happen? Trying not to be the new person who imposes change, but a new set of ears and eyes who interacts with what is here and, in time, offers a piece of our shared story which might be of value to the whole.

      And yes, I will ask, and ask, and ask, and listen, and listen, and listen. And just like at home, if I’m given space, I will speak (and speak, and speak!)

      xo to you at home

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