26 June 2012

Language: Íishsjání ádoolnííł: Make Things Clear

Íishsjání ádoolnííł: Make Things Clear

Paul Chaat Smith's essay, Lost In Translation, begins with a discussion of 60 Minutes producer Don Hewitt. Hewitt had several rules for successful television. One being: No Indians. "Indians talk too much, too slowly, and what they say is always complicated."

Smith continues: "[Hewitt] realized the Indian experience is an ocean of terrifying complexity. We are reputed to be stoic, but in reality it's hard to get us to shut up."

A long time ago I heard the Honourable Justice Robert Yazzie say, "the most important piece of paper in the Navajo Peacemaking Court was—the Kleenex®."

Peacemaking on the Navajo Nation involves several principles. The two most important being: talking things out and making things clear.

"Navajos know from experience that people cannot engage in respectful, meaningful, and relevant discussions and move toward a consensual resolution of a problem unless they understand each other's positions." (from Raymond D. Austin's Navajo Courts and Navajo Common Law: A Tradition of Tribal Self-Governance)

I know, from my own experience, not everyone is working toward a consensual resolution, but I offer this as a way to speak about language and a glimpse into my understanding of our need to talk things out and make things clear.

"Maybe this is where I got the notion that if I could tell the story clearly enough then all that was taken, including the land, might be returned." (from Leslie Marmon Silko's The Turquoise Ledge)

Clarity is a challenge not everyone is willing to pursue. Clarity requires a willingness to listen and the skill of honest appraisal (of self and other). I find myself circling the same issues in several languages in an attempt to be clear. When someone does not understand me I am angry. That's why Justice Austin reminds us to use and practice Íishsjání ádoolnííł. If you don't things get funky fast. "The 'make things clear' rule requires individuals to express points clearly while 'talking things out' to prevent perturbation and confusion among the peacemaking participants."

Expressing points clearly is required of life. Our expressions, clear or not, shape each of our relations. Done well expression makes the peacemaking process something we may find ourselves rarely in need of.

Often we talk about difficult things. Often we don't even know who are we? Often the stated we does not include me. I may not share the same idea of talking or the same relationship to listening. My time frame is often so different that some believe I do not even have one.

Language: we live inside it. We are using it at this moment. At this moment many require brief, quick, and comprehendable messages in swaths of three to five minutes, or 140 characters. How can I maintain clarity in those terms?

In my desire to connect I am trying to articulate this, my world, with clarity. Everyone is not searching for such brevity.

No one lives in isolation. No word is spoken in isolation either. These are my beliefs, they shape what I write, when I speak, and the words I use.

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