Chiaroscuro 3/3

We are everywhere

“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” 13

“Do you want to know what I think? Or do you want to know what I really think?” 14

What does it mean, to invite others to participate and to help shape a cultural narrative? What happens when the different voice speaks – in a tentative whisper, in a belligerent criticism, in a furious, rebellious snarl?

We see the same patterns executed over and over in the realms of politics and organisational governance – ‘consultations’ executed, lip service paid, focus groups gathered to lend credibility to what has already been determined. Dissent is smothered, dismissed, ignored, deleted, censored and even burned. A fresh commitment is made to the dominant voice, spouted from the same fatherly soapbox, from within the same confining structures.

Despite this, the different voice persists. (“They forget that we, too, have earned the right to live!” 15) The Athabascan people of the Two Old Women tale are among those currently demanding recognition of First Nations sovereignty and treaty adherence in the Idle No More movement. These are people who speak in a different voice to the ones with whom they negotiate. They value Mother Earth, and regard the digging and mining of her minerals to be a violation and a desecration. They don’t understand her as a product to be harvested, but rather as a being with whom they connect and interact in relationship.

In his 1991 book entitled In the Absence of the Sacred, Jerry Mander dismantles the assumption that Native people abide by the same governing principles as the Western cultures, that is, by a system of majority rule. Expecting a consensual people to appoint representatives to attend parliamentary bodies – this requires them to play by a foreign set of rules. He quotes Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Iroquois Turtle Clan:

In our government, national consensus is paramount. There is no process for voting. We have a system of discussion and council that requires agreement from all sides of our council fire; all must finally agree on the subject before them. All meetings are public. We cannot have a closed meeting…. 16

Mander also points out that

Tragically, traditional Indian people tend to express disapproval by boycotting meetings, walking out, and refusing to vote. This is logical among Indians themselves, who recognise a boycott for what it is, a negative vote. But when dealing with whites and white legal systems, the effect has been to leave the voting and deal-making to those who remain; i.e., those who want to make deals. 17

We return to the issue of speaking out of place: who sets the terms whereby communication will take place? On whose territory do we stand, in whose tent do we sit? In whose voice are we speaking?

We cannot separate ourselves from the political dimension of our existence in this finite world. Cordova expresses this beautifully in the following translation of a Native American concept into a Western, written text:

The legends of Native Americans that portray humans as cocreators of the spinning Universe should be taken deadly seriously: Time and the Universe have everything to do with expectations of what it is to be a human being. I AM RESPONSIBLE. My actions in the world are not meaningless; they may be no more than a drop of water in the ocean, but at some point that drop triggers a deluge, or a weather pattern, or myriads of other ‘relative motions.’ The future does not exist. ‘I’ have not yet made it, contributed to it. My present actions are making it. Present actions are like layers of snow added to a snowball – the shape of the present outer layer determines the future shape of the whole. 18

Sharon Blackie echoes this point in her conversation with Jeppe Graugaard:

But note this: we don’t change the meta-narrative by sitting around thinking up new stories. We do it by getting out there. By not only seeing in new ways, but living in new ways. By being the subjects for those stories. More than that – by being the stories. We ARE the stories. That’s how it’s always been. 19

Well – once again, I salute the Dark Mountain Project and its call for new stories and cautionary tales to share in this crooked and hurtful world. Thanks for the invitation. Do you want to know what I really think?  Here: I am living a story for you right now. You see, I am building my snowball right here, in this spell of winter. Like those two old women, I have so much to give: so many skills, so much knowledge, so much forgiveness and integrity and good faith in myself – and such perseverance! Like those two old women, I too can offer a seat by my fire and speak in a strong and passionate voice, in a different voice. And I too am ready to die, trying.

“We live ourselves forward, and understand ourselves backward…” 20

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

13 T. S. Eliot, “Four Quartets”

14 quoted in Carol Gilligan, Joining the Resistance, Polity Press, 2011, (p. 20)

15 Wallis, (p.16)

16 Jerry Mander, In the Absence of the Sacred, Sierra Club Books, 1991, (p.241)

17 quoted in Mander, (p.309)

18 Cordova, (p.175)


20 Richard Holloway, Leaving Alexandria, Canongate, 2012 (p.271)