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Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from “Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Spirit-Based Change,” by Sherri L. Mitchell:
Once, when I was late for an appointment, I jokingly excused my behavior by saying that I was operating on Indian time. I got a stern look from my grandfather and was invited to sit down and talk with him. He told me that the term Indian time wasn’t an excuse for disrespecting the time given by others. He said that it related to the long periods of time that tribal people took to make a good decision. He explained that the tradition of decision-making for our people was based on consensus. In this process, there were long periods of contemplation and deliberation. All aspects of the situation were considered, and everyone was offered the time needed to discuss the issue at length, in order to fully understand it and determine their position. Sometimes it took days or even weeks for consensus to be reached. This process differed greatly from the majority-rule decision-making process of the Europeans, who often became frustrated by the long decision-making process undertaken by the tribes. Yet, this process allowed for balanced decisions to be made, by including the voices of all those who would be impacted and allowing all sides of the issue to be examined.
Read Native News Online book review: “Sacred Instructions” Provides an Alternative to the Chaos that Exists in Today’s Society
In our peacekeeping process, we operate in much the same way. We conduct our peacekeeping sessions around concentric circles, bringing together all the people that are impacted by the conflict. In the first circle are the people that are directly involved in the conflict; next are the family members; then the friends; and finally members of the larger community. By involving everyone in this process, we are reminded that we are all connected and that everyone is impacted by tensions that erupt in our families and communities. This allows everyone impacted to share their experiences and offer suggestions that address the needs of all those involved. This leads to greater harmony within the community and helps heal damaged relationships, by allowing everyone the opportunity to express how they’ve been affected and what they need to feel whole again. When we engage the peacemaking process, it is never rushed. Everyone is given voice, and each issue that emerges is moved around the circle repeatedly until it has been exhausted and the emotional charge surrounding it has been diffused. When we allow enough time for this process to unfold naturally and everyone is able to work through the issues that arise for them, it leads to the most favorable outcome for everyone involved.
When we make decisions under the pressure of time constraints, we don’t make good decisions. One of the challenges of the modern age is for us to slow down our processes and allow people to make decisions that are based on accurate information and full understanding. When people are forced into situations that they don’t fully understand and are required to make decisions based on limited information, they are often resentful of the outcomes. Yet when people are afforded the time to adequately consider an issue, discuss it, ask questions, and make an informed decision, they are less likely to experience residual conflict over the outcome, even if they don’t get everything that they wanted at the outset.
When people are left out of the process, they are denied the right to make decisions that affect the outcomes of their lives. Much of the conflict that exists today is caused by individuals making decisions that impact the lives of others without their consent or involvement. This is the basic underpinning of our criminal justice system, and it is also the basic operating procedures for the hierarchical structures that govern our lives. This paternalistic tendency is a learned pattern that comes from the patriarchal system that we have been living under. Many of the problems that are emerging in the public arena are centered on this issue, where the few are making decisions for the many. The lack of transparency within our governments, the promotion of special interests at the expense of the people and the planet, and the dissemination of misinformation is leading to large-scale conflict around the world. If we view conflict as an opportunity, then there has never been a greater opportunity for us to heal and grow.
One of the hallmarks of this time is the illumination of all that has been hidden. This illumination is highlighting the conflict that needs to be addressed within ourselves and within our social and political structures. How we engage this conflict will determine whether we move forward in a more unified way or become further divided.
In order to achieve a shift in direction, people are going to have to be willing to be uncomfortable and face the many conflicts that are coming up, with intent toward healing. A key component of transforming conflict is a willingness to sit with those who disagree with your position. To listen closely to what they are saying, to hear their needs, and then to try to find a point where your needs converge, so you can work together to harmonize those needs into some form of decisive action.
Achieving peace requires more than the absence of war. It requires us to transform our hearts and minds and then our relationships with one another and the natural world. The question at the core of transformation is “who do I need to be” in order to facilitate change. Once that question has been answered, the action steps that are needed become clear. We must become fearless in our pursuit to harmonize, so that we can reach the critical mass required for large-scale transformation. There is more to contemplate here than our own struggles and discomfort; we must also contemplate the very real suffering that is meted out in our names so that we can recognize the illusion of comfort that we hold. Spiritual texts from around the world tell us that what is given to us at the expense of others will return to us in equal measure. Therefore, to avoid an increase in suffering, we must engage this struggle and sacrifice our own comfort, to help alleviate the very real suffering that is taking place. This involves reclaiming our power from those who have taken it away.
Those who take power live in fear of retribution. They hide themselves away and wield their ill-gotten power in secrecy. The only way to reclaim our power is to go into the shadows where secrecy lies and shine the light of truth. This requires us to burn brightly, and to bring our light into every shadow that we encounter, while maintaining a heart-focused intent. Transforming the conflict around us into peaceable action requires full transparency. It also requires us to do the work necessary to build relationships that are based on fairness and equity, and to demonstrate respect for the dignity of all living beings, so that injustice and harm can be alleviated and space can be created for true healing. If we truly want to shift our trajectory toward life, toward harmony, and eventually toward peace, we must first become adept at transforming the conflicts that we face into a tool for our own growth and healing, and then transfer that wisdom outside of our inner sphere and onto the streets.