A friend recently shared some principles used by 4-H Programs to guide teachers, advisers, and the young people who are participating. These principles are eternal, and derive from Native American culture and teaching. I believe other cultures have used them as well. They amount to a successful approach to life, self-determination and happiness.
In class, we are examining ideas of "What is Happiness?" First, I believe that most cultures recognize that we cannot depend upon others for happiness. That must come from inside ourselves. Second, in having unspoken "expectations" of others, we often set ourselves up for unhappiness, for our expectations may often be unfulfilled.
These principles are also called the "Circle of Courage."
Belonging: Lakota anthropologist Ella Deloria wrote, "Be related, somehow, to everyone you know." Treating all those you encounter and know as kin forges powerful social bonds that draw all into relationships of respect.
Mastery: In native cultures, children were taught from the beginning to respect and learn from those who were older and had different skills. A person with greater ability was seen as a model for learning, not as a rival. Each person strives for mastery for personal growth, but not to be superior to someone else. According to Reclaiming Youth International, "Humans have an innate drive to become competent and solve problems. With success in surmounting challenges, the desire to achieve is strengthened."
Independence: Reclaiming Youth International points up that, "Power in Western culture was based on dominance, but in tribal traditions it meant respecting the right for independence." In contrast to obedience models of discipline, Native teaching was designed to build respect and teach inner discipline. From earliest childhood, children were encouraged to make decisions, solve problems, and show personal responsibility. Adults modeled, nurtured, taught values, and gave feedback, but children were given abundant opportunities to make choices without coercion.
Generosity: Also according to Reclaiming Youth International, "virtue was reflected in the preeminent value of generosity." The central goal in Native American child-rearing is to the teach the importance of being generous and unselfish. In the words of a Lakota Elder, "You should be able to give away your most cherished possession without your heart beating faster." In helping others, youth create their own proof of worthiness: they make a positive contribution to another human life.
Now, are you my friend? Much of the "Circle of Courage" comes to me by nature, and this cannot be a "virtue" if it is something automatically done. However, much else comes from what I was taught by my family, especially my grandfather. As to learning, competition, and respect for those with higher skills, my grandfather always told me, "No matter how good you think you are, there is always someone better. As to generosity, I was always taught not to hold too greedily to things, not to "grab" at foods or opportunities put before me, but to wait until the right moment, and take or participate only to the right amount. As to belonging, many years ago, I heard Ray Bradbury speak at the A.K. Smiley Public Library in Redlands. I'm not sure he said any of these famous quotes that are attributed to him at any of the several speeches I heard him give as I was growing up, but the feelings he engendered definitely fit with them:
- If you dream the proper dreams, and share the myths with people, they will want to grow up to be like you.
- If you enjoy living, it is not difficult to keep the sense of wonder.
- Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you'd drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It's more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.
- We are the miracle of force and matter making itself over into imagination and will. Incredible. The Life Force experimenting with forms. You for one. Me for another. The Universe has shouted itself alive. We are one of the shouts.
- You can't try to do things; you simply must do them.
So, we are all kin. Do you believe this circle of courage is true? Are you my friend?
According to Mr. Bradbury, who is one of those children that we other children should pay attention to and learn from,
"Why is it," he said, one time, at the subway entrance, "I feel I've known you so many years?"
"Because I like you," she said, "and I don't want anything from you."
And about writers - because like gardeners and cab drivers and teachers and accountants, we do a job. And about the way it is done, he said,
"The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies."