Given the enormous suffering inflicted on Indian country over the centuries, there is always the feeling that nothing can ever be good enough, including the lives of those working for its wellbeing.
This suffering translates into rules that continue to harm even the most dedicated of our members who are doing everything within their power to promote healing and wellbeing in Indian country. For their sake, and the sake of our communities, it is time that we break these unhealthy rules. There are – to my knowledge – at least 10 of them:
Rule 1. If you are here, you are not good enough.
In order to maintain your strength of Spirit, keep in mind one thing: You are meant to do the best you can, with what you can, whenever you can. And doing your best is the best you can do. When you do so, you are as good as you can be: and that is good enough.
Rule 2. If you are here you have to take sides.
There is only one side when it comes to the problems in Indian country. That is the side of all of the members of your community. Respect for all. Honor to all. Justice for all. Your side is with all of the American Indian people, at one time 100 percent of the population in this land, now down to only 1 percent of the population. We cannot afford to turn on each other.
Rule 3. Those who don’t speak don’t know.
Most people in Indian country who choose silence over words turn out to be quite knowledgeable. They use their silence as a statement that often means “how can we accomplish anything when nobody is willing to listen?” At other times their silence asks of others “lower your voices and strengthen your arguments.” If we are to heal, we must be willing to listen to each other, even to those who speak with silence.
Rule 4. Those who speak also don’t know.
Words are taken with suspicion in Indian country and for a good reason: rarely have they been kept. And yet, words of truth and honesty have the power to heal communities and restore effective communication among us all. We don’t necessarily need fewer words. We might need more, as long as they are words of honesty and truth.
Rule 5. Making decisions is wrong.
Fear becomes destructive when it keeps us from making decisions, especially decisions that will improve the quality of life of our communities. Decisions are part of life. To give up on making decisions is to choose to act as if we were dead while still being alive. Learn to make decisions, and learn from the decisions you make.
Rule 6. Making no decision is wrong too.
One cannot make a choice without giving up some options. As we look back we will always find roads not taken. We will do well to remind ourselves that life is understood as we look back, but it can only be lived as we move forward.
Rule 7. Relatives are more important than rules.
Rarely have I seen so much grief in the hearts of tribal workers as when they have to choose between following the rules of their organizations or bending the rules for their relatives. For their own wellbeing, the quality of their work, and the service of their entire community, we must generate healthy rules and apply them with consistency, even in the case of relatives.
Rule 8. We only know each other by our mistakes.
It has become a pattern to take notice of each other only when mistakes are made. If we maintain this partial perspective of our lives, we will never manage to grow up. To the contrary, we will grow less every day, for our mistakes will be the only sign that we ever walked this earth. Who wants to have that for a life? It is time we start acknowledging our accomplishments and our contributions, and cultivate the discipline by which we turn yesterday’s mistakes into successes of tomorrow.
Rule 9. Those who are good are either dead or gone.
Words of appreciation in Indian country tend to come when people either leave or die. We seem to fear that if we say something positive about another person while they are still alive, we are taking the risk of being proven wrong. We guard our trust so well, that we only allow ourselves to give it when the other person is gone. Of what good is it then? Trust is only meaningful when we are present, when we are alive, when we stand by each other. It is time we appreciate our lives, not just our memories.
Rule 10. Those who get angrier win.
Anger can give us the fuel to get through hard times, but it does not make us better people. It takes more than anger to build our communities. Anger gives us determination, but it also narrows our minds. Courage is what enhances our ability to think at the same time that it helps us take a stand for what is right. With anger we can put up a good fight; but only with courage can we bring-up a good human being and built a healthy community. If you have a choice, choose anger over cowardice and courage over anger.
And use your courage to break these unhealthy rules every time you get a chance.
Roberto Dansie is a clinical psychologist. In 1997 he received the golden medallion from the National Indian Health Board for his contributions to health in Indian country. He lives in northern California.