COMMENTARY: The Battle of the Paradigms

by Jul 19, 2021OPINIONS



One Feather Editor


Not long ago, I had a supervisor tell me that I seemed to be trying to portray myself as smarter than I really was. During one evaluation session, this supervisor said there were those who thought I did exemplary work, but as for this supervisor, they “just didn’t see it”.  I think about these slices of life from time to time, just because it helps me keep things in proper perspective and helps motivate me to be a bit kinder and more considerate of others, even when I feel they don’t deserve it.

I have often heard it said that respect is an earned commodity. I am not sure that I agree. I try to make it a point to find the good in people, even when they aren’t “on my side”. To do that, I will need to show them some respect and courtesy from the get-go. We are all working our way through this life, with our own set of gifts and burdens. The old adage “do unto others, as you would have them do unto you” shows no caveat implying that you should do good only if they are doing good to you first. Loving your neighbor as yourself means you accept others like you accept yourself, warts and all.  To use the new, hip language, the idea of treating others with disrespect if they don’t treat you with respect, is a concept that came over with the colonists.

Sign board outside a business in Waynesville (ROBERT JUMPER/One Feather photo)

I went to one of my favorite lunch outlets on Friday. It is a buffet style establishment. There happened to be a Boy Scout group from Florida, possibly 15 people of varying ages (mostly teens with some middle-aged, I assumed troop leaders or chaperones) seated at various tables adjacent to me.

Now, back when I was a boy, this organization taught courtesy and respect as foundational elements of manhood. I would point you to any of the old promotional materials for the Scouts. One of the iconic images has a young man in Scout uniform helping a mature lady or gentlemen across a busy street. Well, either the Scout organization has changed a bit over the years, or they teach them something different in Florida, because it looked like this particular troop got their manners from watching Animal House.

As I stood in line waiting to be seated, one of the young men was running in and out of the restaurant, pushing between those of us in line without so much as a “pardon me”.  Once I was seated, I noted that most all the kids in the troop had earbuds in their ears and some were busily trying to figure out how to get wifi service, because this restaurant has a secure internet connection (and I never have been able to get the password and I have been frequenting this establishment for years). The young men and ladies proceeded to be obnoxious, getting up frequently to elbow in front of someone in the buffet line, one young man at the corner of the table next to mine nearly stuck his butt in my plate of food as he prepared to sit down at his table. This group, including the leaders of it, acted like they would not have a clue what it meant if you told them that they should show some respect and courtesy to their fellow person, particularly your elders, which, at their age, would be nearly everyone. And to cap it off, none of the leaders seemed to have a problem with the behavior of their charges.

We are a society of impatience and selfishness. Forgive me for painting with a broad brush, but in my circle of life, it is “my truth”. When we get into our cars (yes, I am guilty of it myself), a subconscious belief kicks in that says, “this is my domain, and I am the king/queen of it”. I control the speed and direction of travel, the temperature of the air, and even the sounds that I hear inside my space. And then I extend my domain to the territory surrounding my vehicle, so that everyone in my path is subject to my needs of space on the road. And the space that is my domain moves with the location of the vehicle. Unfortunately, the other drivers don’t seem to understand my authority on the road, because they too assume dominance, even in “my” space. Chaotic incidences occur, with each of us tailgating each other, passing each other in no-passing zones, cutting each other off in traffic and in parking lots for position, and other very discourteous behavior. We display ridiculous messages on our windows stating, “I hate the Right” or “I hate the Left”. I have seen so many decals touting “(fill in the blank) lives matter”, I am uncertain which lives matter anymore. And the arrogance and pride know no boundaries. We blow our horns. We throw finger flags of disapproval. We scream. We turn on our high beams. We run people down. And then it really gets ugly. Some, for the want of a modicum of road courtesy, have taken even human life.

And that is the saddest truth of all. We seem to be more concerned about comfort and happiness than courtesy and respect. This truth plays out in our everyday lives, and not just on the highways. We use the word “paradigm” interchangeably with the word “standard”. Philosophically, you might call it a way of life, or our circles of life. You have things you believe in and live by, and so do I. All the things I live by is one circle, and all things that you live by are in another. Now, some of these things we may have in common. You believe that catfish is delicious and so do I. You loving catfish is in your paradigm. It is also in mine. Many of you have heard of a Venn diagram, which typically, graphically shows overlapping ideologies within those circles or paradigms. And you and I would overlap at catfish. Simple. But, when you take something like culture or religion, it is a whole other kettle of fish. Because culture and religion are both complex and subject to personal interpretation in modern society. The overlaps are fewer and farther between on certain issues.

Because we may speak like we are “one” on an issue, the idea of living standards is sometimes seen in a fog. The speech starts with “I love you, but” and when you throw a “but” into a sentence, it typically negates anything previously stated in the sentence. I have often quarreled here publicly about the tendency of some of our people to say that they speak for “the people” or “the tribe”. Venn diagram wise, they are saying that, as far as they are concerned, they and I are concentric circles. The issue is that they have never bothered to talk with me (and I imagine with most of the tribal members) to find out if we are indeed concentric.

The same thing happened recently in a Tribal Council session when someone stood at the podium and said they represented me and the rest of the Tribe while they lived in another state. I am not sure this person represented the complex and diverse population of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, but I am certain that this person and I differ greatly enough to where it would be challenging for them to represent me as a tribal member.

I think it is important to celebrate our shared culture, tradition, and history. As we continue to create our culture and traditions, and we continue to make our history, we should also realize, and celebrate our differences. Whether we agree or not, we must learn to hear and at least acknowledge other viewpoints with compassion and willingness to understand.

Which brings us back to courtesy and respect. Extreme propaganda, no matter what side of the socio-economic, political, spiritual, or cultural spectrum, nearly always is discourteous and disrespectful. Telling one-sided stories leaves gaps in truth that lead to hatred and war.

I am sharing a photo that I took this weekend on the main street of Waynesville. I don’t have any context for it, so bear with me for moment. It was a “sandwich board” sign set up streetside. You may read the content for yourself. Whether it was written in a joking way or not, it certainly goes against my standards for courtesy, respect, and just plain good business sense when it comes to customer service. It you have been in the customer service or front-line service industry; you know that you will have to endure many indignities from either arrogant or ignorant guests who either are just too self-absorbed or too oblivious to social norms to conduct themselves in a courteous and respectful manner. I was trained in the “the customer is always right” era, which seems like it was a million years ago by today’s standard of conduct. The idea, back in the day, was that the customer is paying the bills, including the salaries, so you did as little as possible to alienate them, even if it meant swallowing our prides from time to time. If there was any need for correction of a customer, it was done in private or in court. Small discourtesies were ignored or pardoned with the knowledge that you had to “be the better person”. And, if this sandwich board was just a little joke, it surely sent the wrong message to a public that included both community members and tourism guests. This business is willing to poor mouth you if you don’t act the way they think you should act in their establishment. Now take in consideration that there are literally at least five other similar businesses within walking distance of this little jewel, and you could see where a sign like this one could be a significant strain on their foot traffic.

The only way you can show disrespect to another is if you have already judged that you are better than they are. And you are not. You are deserving of respect and courtesy, and so are those of different races, faiths, sexual preferences, and positions in government. Remember, showing kindness and respect doesn’t mean that you necessarily agree with a position, only that you acknowledge a right of humanity.

I read an eye-opening statement in a picture window on that same main street in Waynesville. It was a sign that read, “A soldier fights not because he hates the enemy in front of him. A soldier fights because he loves the family and friends behind him.” When we justify our positions, it should always be from a mindset of love, care, and thoughtfulness. Hate can’t have a place in decision making if the goals are reconciliation, fairness, and peace.

The discourtesy I experienced from a particular supervisor has always served as a reminder when I have led multiple teams in my career. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. All you can do is put your best foot forward; do your best; stand on your principles; and treat others with the brotherly and sisterly love that we often talk about but too seldom practice. Don’t let the deficiencies in others make you critical or deficient yourself. Agree to disagree where you can and not violate your principles. Understand that in even your most cherished beliefs that not all will accept and abide them, and that is their choice. You don’t have to hate, abuse, or insult because you feel like they need that. They don’t. And neither do you.