Friday, May 29, 2009

Dr. Brokenleg Lecture - Belonging, Mastery, Independence, Generosity

On Tuesday, Dr. Martin Brokenleg, in Anchorage through the work of a new coalition of groups including Healing Racism in Anchorage, called Anchorage Community Diversity Project, began his week of work in Anchorage with a breakfast talk that I covered here.

During the day he worked with school district folks and in the evening there was a long session at UAA. For me there wasn't anything startlingly new, but I appreciated his way of presenting it. He was extremely open and supportive and his approach offered model of what young people need to grow up whole that was based on his own Native American heritage, yet also had hints of Maslow, Covey, Myers-Briggs, and other models of behavior used, say, in mainstream management programs.

I'll offer a few things he said that I found useful and then post some slides of his basic model.

He repeated some key ideas from the morning session:

"We meet on the basis of our sameness and grow on the basis of our differences."

"No one can grow up in America and not be taught racism. Whites too are negatively influenced. If you are white and you feel you have to be careful about what you say so as not to offend someone of a different race, then you are a victim of racism." (somewhat paraphrased)

In the evening he focused on how people need lots of people to be raised right. In his culture, all his parents brothers and sisters are considered his parents. All his cousins are considered brothers and sisters. And all his nieces and nephews are considered his grandchildren. The nuclear family - mother, father, and children - living alone and seperated from the rest of the family is a unique development of the modern world, spurred on by capitalist system's need for consumption. With each nuclear family, you need a separate house, separate washer and drier, stove, televisions, cars, etc.

But you lose the support of all your family in raising your children, in helping out when you're ill, and in supplying wisdom and diversion. A husband cannot fulfill all his wife's emotional needs and vice versa. Sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, all offer unique forms of social and emotional support. Sure, we can recreate such communities, but we need lots of people for our emotional growth and health.

My wife has observed that whatever strange behaviors one has, there is at least one other person in the family who shares those traits and understands you and can offer you support.

Dr. Brokenleg went on to talk about what a person needs to be spiritually strong. He
identified four factors we all need:

  • To be important, Significance
  • Competence
  • Sense of Personal Power
  • Knowing one's own Goodness
He then said that in the modern world these factors had been substituted:

Significance substituted by Individualism
Competence substituted by Winning
Power substituted by Dominance
Goodness substituted by Affluence

He himself offered a slightly different terminology for the four and put them around a medicine wheel. (I didn't get a picture of his medicine wheel, this one I got from Cherokee Indian Art. Dr. Brokenleg is Lakota I believe.)

First, one must belong, must have significance. He gave a story about how his aunt walked four miles through a snow storm to see him and say goodbye to him when he was leaving for college. An act like that was a demonstration to him of his significance, his belonging.

Mastery (competence) comes after the belonging. It gives you the skills you need to function in life.

Mastery makes it possible for independence (power). At this point you know who you are and are not susceptible to peer pressure. In getting to independence, he said there is a difference between discipline and punishment. Punishment doesn't work. Punishment simply leads to obedience, you do it because you are forced to and someone is watching. Discipline gives one choices to learn and improve. Discipline leads to an ability to make good choices. (I should have taken better notes here so I could better explain the difference.)

Finally, when you have mastery and independence, you must share that with others. This is generosity (knowing one's goodness.)

I think there is a lot of wisdom here. I believe that raising children is the most important place we can put our energy and attention. If we raise them right, all the interventions we have created (police, drug rehabilitation, etc.) would be unnecessary. And this is as good a guide for raising children well as any I've seen.


  1. From a supreme court appointment reaction story in today's Guardian, quoting nominee Sotomayor:

    "I would hope that a wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experiences, would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life," she said. "Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging."

    To some Americans, Sotomayor's comments appear self-evident. They point to the personal experience that Thurgood Marshall brought as a black man elevated to the supreme court during the civil rights era. But conservatives said her comments are evidence that she will be biased against whites and men.

    Gingrich, in a Twitter feed to more than 340,000 followers, said she should resign. "Imagine a judicial nominee said, 'My experience as a white man makes me better than a Latina woman.' New racism is no better than old racism," wrote Gingrich.


    Good grief...

  2. Thanks Jay. I heard those 'bias' comments too and I've been thinking about how to write about what's wrong with their reasoning. The obvious is, "As if white males don't come to the court with a bias too." But then that's not 'bias' because that's 'reality' as they know it and as it is generally reflected in school, in the media, at home, etc. Still working on this.

    There's also the issue of fighting every nominee for the sake of making the Dems spend time and energy and money fighting back, even though they know they will lose. They can argue that Democrats fought hard against Republican appointees as well, but I think the argument can be well made that the Republican nominees were often less qualified and/or far more ideologically extreme than most Americans and the Democratic nominees. I think the Democratic appointees have tended to be more consistently first rate AND closer to the mainstream ideologically. But that's a lot of work to establish.


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