By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
Some call it a party game because their first encounter with the test might be at a social event. Some see it as a part of training because that is where they first experienced it. I am not sure if it has a name, but it is an exercise that will heighten your awareness of the value of checking and verifying information. It will bring to the forefront some social truths that we all must face. Our options are to change how we collect information or adapt to the information we receive.
The next group encounter or gathering you are a part of, try the following: Ask your group to participate in a little game or challenge. Gather them in a line or circle. The more people involved, the more exciting and entertaining your experiment will be. Select a sentence or a string of two or three sentences with a few “interesting” tidbits of information included. For example, you might choose, “There is a boy named Azure. Azure means blue. Azure is tall with light brown hair and teal green eyes. Last week, Azure married a girl named Beth in the town of Clyde.” Three simple sentences. There should be sufficient distance between the participants that one cannot hear what the another is whispering to a participant. No one can write down the message. It must be passed verbally. Just have this message orally moved confidentially from one participant to the other until the last person receives the message. Then ask that person to announce the message to the group.
If you don’t want to know what you might find at the end of your game, then this is your spoiler alert. Stop reading now.
Most groups who do this exercise find what common sense would lead you to assume. Participants, based on their attention spans, experiences, and memory will hear and communicate the message as they interpret it. Rarely is there a verbatim recitation of the initial message. People are different. Life experiences and physical condition play considerable roles in how we understand information and how we pass that information along. By the time that sample message about Sam gets through the ears and minds of five or six people, it might be announced as “There is a boy named Azure. He has brown hair and eyes. He just got married.” After 10 to 15 people pass the message, the announcement might be “This boy named Clyde married Beth who has blue eyes and tells tall tales.” We color our messages with our own experience and personality. We might change a message to make it more interesting, in our opinion, or to get rid of what we think is unnecessary information.
Now, if you did this challenge throughout several days and weeks, each participant waiting a day or two to pass the information on to the next, the announcement from the last person might not look anything at all like the original information.
This exercise, while a fun parlor game, is also a reminder of the complexity of human social behavior and interaction. Much of our Cherokee history is an oral history, passed from person to person, generation to generation long before Sequoyah developed the written Cherokee language in 1821. Much of our written history was documented by immigrating Europeans, written in the English language, long before there was a syllabary. And as much as we like and enjoy games, nobody laughs when a point of history comes into question because contradictory documentation is presented, changing the course of our history.
The standard for a story and documentation are very different. A story does not have to be based, may be based on some facts, or maybe entirely factual. Documentation, the thing we do as a matter of course at the newspaper, records things as they are (or as they are marked by a verifier). Articles are history documentation. Some writers and editors allow opinion and conjecture in their reports, we do our best not to do that. Mixing theory or belief in a factual article is confusing to the reader and will erode the credibility of the writer, and the publisher. There is a place marked for opinions in our paper. Even our journalists are directed to use commentary if they want to express an opinion. Articles are for reporting fact. A commentary is for expressing an opinion. To the best of our ability and to the limits of civility and ethics, we allow as much of the community’s view to be shared as possible.
Why? Because in most societies, tribal or not, informed and engaged citizens make better decisions about their own lives, for their community, and their governance. We need to know how we feel about issues. We need to know who thinks what. We value other people’s opinions if they have character and personality that appeals to us. We have a different valuation for those we do not respect. But, we must be open to hearing those within our community.
With having an open forum, we must also be cautious of gossip and place an appropriate evaluation we receive that way. A person may even believe that the information he is passing along is accurate because he heard it from a trusted source, who may have heard it through another trusted source, and so on. Before you know it, the original truth that “Azure is a brown-haired, green-eyed boy,” is communicated to you as “Azure has a blue-eyed camel named Clyde.” When it comes to opinion, it is up to the reader to determine whether they agree with a position taken on an issue by a writer. And readers are always encouraged to become writers when they have a supporting or opposing view from an opinion writer.
The editor and editorial board may not agree with what you say in an opinion piece, but they will defend your right to say it. And, when we are giving an opinion, it will be marked as opinion. When we present articles to the readership, they will be as free from opinion, slant, and spin as possible.
I believe that the strength of our EBCI nation is in open communication. The administration, the legislators, the government officials and employees, our hospital and health system, our school system, all have very much to be proud of as part of a thriving Cherokee society. During a recent strategic planning initiative meeting, consultant David Montgomery told us that the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is among the top 5 percent of tribes in economic development.
He said, “EBCI is definitely in the top tier of economically successful tribes and not average.”
We are strong enough to look inward. We should celebrate the great things and retool the not-so-great stuff. Encourage the good and examine the failings to find ways to make them a part of the good. Let’s all look together. There is strength in numbers.
On another subject, it is with great pleasure that we announce two new Cherokee One Feather Editorial Board members to the team. Principal Chief Sneed has selected Ashleigh Stephens to serve on the board, and Attorney General Michael McConnell has selected Angela Lewis for board service. More on Ashleigh and Angela in an upcoming edition of the One Feather. We welcome them and their input. I know that the cause of free press will be greatly served with these additions to the Editorial Board.