#NativeNerd column: Why we should listen to our elders

Vincent Schilling

They have been through many of our own life experiences and struggles before, those who listen can avoid many of life’s difficulties

We need to listen to our elders.

Now more than ever.

As social media has reached an absolute frenzy of online interaction … now is the time to take a minute, step back and listen.

There is a movie and a book titled Lord of the Flies. If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, I am going to reveal a major spoiler, but I really can’t think of a much better analogy.

In the story, a large group of boys has been shipwrecked on a remote island without any adult supervision. After a length of time on the island, groups emerge within the group and then choose sides. 

Eventually, one of the boys is ridiculed to the point of veritable torture because he is deemed weak, and they kill the boy by striking him on the head with a huge rock. Another boy becomes a target and the others begin chasing him and screaming toward him.

As the group of boys reaches a clearing … a military soldier appears, having found the shipwrecked group of boys on the island. He asks “What are you boys doing?”

The group all stops in their tracks, realizing with horror as to how far they had gone just following their primal instincts, many of which did not uphold the sacredness of human life.

Survival in its raw form … can get pretty ugly.

This is the world of social media. It is running rampant with no supervision and no guidance from elders. 

So here we are now in the heart of a social media world

Our world is now affected into action almost entirely by social media. That may seem like a big statement, but it is what I believe.

Movies can be destroyed by bad comments. Bad people are called out for terrible actions thanks to Twitter and Facebook video, where before people were ignored.

People know in a very big way, that one ugly misstep can end entire careers.

So while social media is running rampant like the boys in Lord of the Flies, our elders can be that humbling thought or suggestion that keeps us on life’s right track.

In other words, elders can chill us out. Have something you really feel passionate about? Talk to an elder before you post something you might regret to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube or anywhere else.

Elders can be like the soldier that sees the boys running and screaming … with a calm perspective, makes them stop what they are doing.

Here are a few things I have learned over the years from a few special elders.

My Tota - Carole Ross
“Stay out of the water and away from sharks my boy.”

My Tota Carole Ross, with her book project in Mohawk, 'The Dance of the Caterpillars." (Photo Vincent Schilling)

In my Mohawk culture, dreams are everything. I have always had incredibly bright, colorful and many times lucid and truly lifelike dreams. I used to surf quite a bit in California, then a bit later in North Carolina and Virginia. I started having dreams about sharks. After telling my Tota, she told me to listen to my instincts and gut. I sold my surfboard and haven’t been in the ocean since. That anxious part of my life is gone. I listened to my Tota, my wife Delores and my internal instincts. (Sigh of relief.)

One more thing, Tota also told me to let even the most outrageous anger-inducing moments, to “roll off of my back.” And that’s all she would say about it. So stop questioning things and just do it, folks, Tota said so.

Wayne Newton, Mr. Las Vegas himself
“Never tear down something you can’t build back up.”

dad (29)
Wayne Newton gave me great advice I will never forget.

Mr. Wayne Newton, a direct descendant of Pocahontas as a Powhatan Patawomeck, once told me a great bit of advice. “Never tear down something you can’t build back up.” In other words, if you attack someone, something or a cause, make sure there is a way to rebuild.

If you are going to criticize, offer a possible solution, if you are going to tear down a building, have resources on hand to rebuild for the benefit of anyone you might have unintentionally harmed. If something isn’t right, make sure there is a way to fix it.

Congressman John Lewis

I met Rep. John Lewis, a titan in the world of civil rights, in Washington D.C. He told me NEVER to give up. No matter what might come in our way, no matter how tired or hard things may seem, never ever ever give up. Keep up the good fight.

Chief Lynette Allston
Practice kindness

Chief Lynette Allston is like a second mother to me, I was just gifted this wampum necklace by her and the tribe.

I have known Chief Allston, of the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia for many years. She has told me more things than I can even remember. But what I can say she has always encouraged in me, was to practice kindness.

I struggle with this in my life of intense deadlines and stories. But Chief Allston is reminding me again through my own mind right now as I type, that I need to remember to be kind.

Suzan Shown Harjo
Be respectful

Photo by @VinceSchilling (34)
Suzan Shown Harjo is an icon in Indian Country who has taught me so much. Every word she has spoken to me has been an honor.

Suzan Harjo has told me so many amazing things, it is hard to even begin to list them all. I will do the best I can to summarize it in a respectful way as possible of what she has done and said for my benefit. She is unselfish, kind and courteous and incredibly honorable. No better person deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom as much.

She has told me to be calm, think before acting or writing, be respectful, do the best you can to reflect the truth in my writings, be honorable, respect women, elders and children and be respectful to your colleagues.

Live life with kindness and compassion toward others. But you don’t have to be anyone’s doormat.

The words have changed and shifted because of me writing them, so I mean only respect and thanks for your guidance Suzan.

Thanks to all elders for guiding us to do better in our lives.

One last question: How would your social media post look if you had to read it to a respected elder before posting? 

ICT Smartphone Logo for ARTICLES

Follow fellow Native Nerd, Vincent Schilling associate editor for Indian Country Today at @VinceSchilling - Make sure to use the Hashtag #NativeNerd

Email - vschilling@indiancountrytoday.com

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

Wonderful advice from some great people. I like what Wayne Newton said, about refraining from tearing something down if one isn't ready to do the hard work of building it back up. We are so often tempted, when reading online, to give expression through comments to our righteous indignation. But let's not forget that every expression of anger creates a wound; and if we are responsible, moral persons, hoping for peace, then we must realize we shall have to do what we can then to heal that wound.