“Take what you need. Give what you have. Live in harmony; Not competition.”
(A saying found among many different Native American peoples.)
Pearls of …well, something.
If you have any age on you to speak of, you likely hear one or more of your parents’ voices in your head all the time, whether you want to or not. Some of those sayings are probably helpful, cherished adages. Some of them are right up there with “ONE EIGHT SEVEN SEVEN KARS FOR KIDS…” and other earworms you wish you could yank out of your head with turbo-charged tweezers.
One of the less than lovelies for me was always “Do you want it… or neeeeedddd it?” It reminds me of a scene from one of my mother’s favorite movie’s, Avalon, where young Michael Kaye, (played by a very young and amazingly adorable Elijah Wood,) is sitting in a grammar lesson about can and may when he really needed to just go to the bathroom. (Click the link! It’s 3 minutes and 39 seconds well spent!) My mother’s Want and Need lesson felt similarly loaded.
Until very recently.
The I and the We
The more I study the more collectivistic cultures in the US, the better I understand that the dominant culture is individualistic to hazardous fault. I’ve known that for quite a while now. You really don’t have to go any farther than this contrast:
“I think, therefore I am.” (Jean-Paul Sarte)
“We are, therefore I am.” (African Proverb)
The more I learn about Native American culture, the more I understand the foundation underneath collectivism. Observing the contrast between Native American and other collectivistic cultures helps me more clearly see the dominant US culture, how we got here, and how we might want to reconsider a few things if we are going to survive.
A lesson from sweetgrass
I briefly nodded to Potawatomi Environmental Biologist, Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer and sweetgrass in last week’s blog. Dr. Wall Kimmerer notes that sweetgrass has become endangered in certain areas; Not because it is being over harvested, but because it is under harvested. As it turns out, sweetgrass, (like many grasses,) releases rhizomes whenever it’s picked. Those rhizomes go back into the soil and produce more sweetgrass. When you don’t pick it, not enough rhizomes are released to replenish the crop.
When sweetgrass is either over harvested or under harvested, it dies out. Do you see it? “Take what you need. Give what you have. Live in harmony; Not competition.”
Want or Need
This puts a whole new spin on my mother’s want or need question, doesn’t it? If we each take what we need and no more than we need, not only will there be plenty for all, those resources will have recovery time and replenish. If instead we gobble up all that we can before our neighbors do, several detrimental things will happen:
- The supply will be depleted.
- Some will be inclined to become short-sighted, selfish and fragile, imagining that they must beat everyone out so that they don’t die.
- Those who don’t have enough will be inclined to become fragile, driven by fear and literal existential threat.
Reminder… When humans are in a fear state, the part of our brains responsible for discernment and decision-making is unavailable to us. Being in a fear state because we don’t have enough, or if we don’t know if we’ll have enough pushes us to make terrible decisions. Over time it even breaks down our DNA. Was buying four extra bundles of toilet paper really worth becoming less disease resistant and putting others at risk of the same as they live in stressful scarcity?
We have had time to learn this
In the 1600’s, Europeans settled in a place called Jamestown in what is now VIrginia. They came from a social system that was fiercely hierarchical. In the world they had known, some people were regarded as more important than others based on how much “stuff” they had, especially land. Those who had less were regarded as less important. In fact, some people without means were not even regarded as actual people. The name of the game was “bigger, better, more,” much like our country today.
The Powhatan tribe that those settlers encountered living on the land, thought very differently. There is a saying among the Omaha people that is evident in Powhatan thinking as well: “A bird who has eaten, cannot fly with a bird who is hungry.” The Powhatan also subscribed to a version of “ take what you need, give what you have.”
Talk about your incompatible terms…
Observe how this contrast plays out:
> The Powhatan find a group of people on their shores who don’t know how to feed themselves on this terrain. Of course they will feed them! And also try to show them how to sustain themselves moving forward.This is what decent humans do.
> The British settlers come to a new place and in their context, these odd people (who, literally to some were not even considered “people,” see the papal bull of 1537, Sublimus dei,) apparently exist to serve them because they are giving them food. Clearly the Powhatan recognize that the settlers are the “superior people.” (Stacking people up by their social status is an automatic action, again, not unlike members of the cultural dominant today.) The settlers then start to demand that the Powhatan feed them. (See The Native Americans: An illustrated history for more information.)
Powhatan view: These people are becoming an intrusive, amoral virus that shows no signs of stopping.
Settler’s view: We have found land that we can possess with servants at the ready. We are successful!
Lessons left unlearned
In spite of teaching from the Powhatan that began patiently, (showing the settlers how to grow food and survive,) and then escalated to violent when they didn’t get the point, (killing selected settlers and leaving their bodies with bread stuffed in their mouths to make the point that the settlers were becoming pariah,) the settlers never got the point. Instead of trying to understand, they doubled down their biases and waged all-out war against the Powhatan.
Even in war, the settlers failed to learn the lesson of only taking what is necessary. In pre-Colonial Native Tribes, warriors only killed warriors – those who chose to be war fighters. The settlers wiped out whole villages of Native American peoples, including the elders and children, who were considered “sacred treasure.” Eventually, Native American tribes didn’t have much choice to retaliate in kind, in order to try to stop these violent, unprincipled invaders.
And of course, because winners write the history, when settlers wiped out Native villages it was recorded as a victory. When Native Americans defeated the settlers, it is recorded as a “massacre.” (For more information, read Neither Wolf Nor Dog by Kent Nerburn.)
The United States was literally built on want over need. How’s that going for you?
“All have their worth and each contributes to the worth of the others.”
(J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion)
Can you tell the wants from the needs in your life? Contact Tiffany today. Let’s talk about how you can live your most effective life.