Everyone was a teacher, and every activity had the potential to teach the child. ~ Leslie Marmon Silko Click To Tweet
In Leslie Marmon Silko’s essay “Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit,” (from her collection of essays by the same title), Silko recalls life lessons she learned growing up on the Leguna Pueblo reservation.
As she became more involved with 1st world culture, she realized the lessons of her youth were quite contrary to those of Western society.
“Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit” makes it abundantly clear that by not teaching our children the lessons Silko learned, we’re raising them to be overly materialistic, keeping their heads in the air and their feet from touching the ever-important ground of spirituality and harmony. The ground that connects all human beings.
Here are 8 things Pueblo Native Americans teach their children that all of us in 1st world culture, no matter our age, could learn a lot from.
1) A Person’s Value Lies In How They Treat Others.
“Physical appearance seemed not to matter to the old-time people. They looked at the world very differently; a person’s appearance and possessions did not matter nearly as much as a person’s behavior. For them, a person’s value lies in how that person interacts with other people, how that person behaves toward the animals and the earth.”
Although we’ve all been told “beauty is only skin deep” and “don’t judge a book by it’s cover,” we’re also bombarded with the unequivocal message that we must make ourselves as attractive as possible.
Instead, we need to teach our children to value the people in their life based on how they treat other humans, as well as the rest of the planet.
2) Children Are Surrounded By Teachers and Should Learn From Everything They Do.
“In the old days, the Pueblo people had educated their children in this manner; adults took time out to talk to and teach young people. Everyone was a teacher, and every activity had the potential to teach the child.”
We’ve set up a very bold line between “school” and “play.” School happens in a building away from the home, but once children come home, they may have a little bit of homework or a chore around the house, but the time is essentially theirs to use as they will.
However, in order to encourage our children to become successful lifelong learners, we must raise them to view their job as learning and to view everyone as a teacher. We need to create a culture of learning and to encourage and cultivate our children’s curiosity.
3) We Are One Big Human Family.
“In the view of the old-time people, we are all sisters and brothers because the Mother Creator made all of us — all colors and all sizes. We are sisters and brothers, clanspeople of all the living beings around us. The plants, the birds, fish, clouds, water, even the clay — are all related to us.”
We seem to forget that we’re all on this earth together. If we over-consume natural resources, no one can use them. We need to use our differences to make us stronger and more united. We need to teach our children to value their fellow human beings and the planet that we all call home.
4) The World Is a Naturally Harmonious Place and We Need to Keep it That Way.
“The old-time people believe that all things, even rocks and water, have spirit and being. They understood that all things want only to continue being as they are; they need only to be left as they are.”
There are a lot of modern ideologies that can create disharmony in ourselves and in the environment. Greed, consumerism, and materialism can cause disharmony within relationships and individuals.
Educating our children about the separation between the material world and the natural/spiritual world and how to strike a balance is imperative for their development as well as the preservation of the environment.
5) There is No Absolute Good or Bad, There Are Only Harmonies.
“In this universe, there is no absolute good or absolute bad; there are only balances and harmonies that ebb and flow. Some years the desert receives abundant rain, other years there is too little rain and sometimes there is so much rain that floods cause destruction. But rain itself is neither innocent nor guilty. The rain is simply itself.”
This idea goes completely against Western ideas of justice, but I think you should be careful not to apply it in that way. Rather I think it shows the importance of accepting and appreciating what you have and trying to make the best of your situation.
Deciding to take a lower paying job to spend more time with your family or experience more enjoyment might be seen as a “bad” decision based on the Western importance of socioeconomic status. However, the Pueblos would say, ‘if it creates balance and harmony in your life, it’s worth doing.’
6) We Should Embrace Our Differences.
“To the Pueblo way of thinking, the act of comparing one living being with another was silly, because each being or thing is uniquely and therefore incomparably valuable because it is the only one of its kind…
“Because differences in physical appearance were so highly valued, surgery to change one’s face and body would be unimaginable. To be different, to be unique was blessed and was best of all.”
This is a beautiful lesson to teach children, and contributes to the rest of these points. We need to teach our kids that accepting our differences means being able to understand more, and participate in relationships on a deeper level.
People aren’t naturally born with the same skin color, hair color, eye color, body type, or beliefs. When we make ourselves the same as what we see on TV we lose our authenticity and adopt a false sense of who we are, which is often tragic in the end.
7) Age Is Just a Number.
“The old-time people paid no attention to birthdays. When a person was ready to do something, she did it. When she no longer was able, she stopped. Thus the traditional Pueblo people did not worry about aging or about looking old because there were no social boundaries drawn by the passage of years.”
If your 12-year old child wakes up one morning, ready to smoke cigarettes and drive your car to school, I wouldn’t say, “Well, if you’re sure you’re ready, I believe in you!”
But I think it’s important to have a conversation with a child and let them know that you don’t see their age as a rigid determinant of what they’re capable of. There are 5-year olds who become inspired to start world-changing charities and there are 14-year olds who publish books.
Although you don’t want to scold your child for not having a book published by the time he or she is a teenager, you should also let them know that if they are ready to take on a big project at a young age, you would encourage them.
8) Sexual Identity is Constantly Changing; We don’t Need To Define Ourselves by Traditional Sexual or Gender Norms.
“A man could dress as a woman and work with the women and even marry a man without any fanfare. Likewise, a woman was free to dress like a man, to hunt and go to war with the men, and to marry a woman.
“In the old Pueblo worldview, we are all a mixture of male and female, and this sexual identity is changing constantly. For the old-time people, marriage was about teamwork and social relationships.”
Kids who don’t feel obligated to define themselves by traditional sexual or gender norms will feel more comfortable being unique and being accepting of others who don’t define themselves in a traditional way.
By raising our children to be accepting of nontraditional sexual and/or gender identities, we will be reinforcing the value we place in diversity, acceptance of and respect for others, and valuing people for who they are, not for who we think they should be.