Leaders and Helpers: Learning Through Our Differences and Similarities

Leaders and Helpers: Learning Through Our Differences and Similarities

All cultures seem to understand that our differences offer an opportunity and appreciation for the wonderful world we live in today. However, while some of us want to better understand and appreciate the uniqueness of other cultures of people, some prefer to be biased, and they are all right with that. As an elder teacher said,

"It is all right to be different, one to another. The traditional Indian view is to accept differences as a way of life, and that is okay. It has been difficult for us as Cherokees to understand why others could not just accept us as we accepted them. Of course, I believe this nonacceptance and tendency to interfere is universal with some all over the world. While we cannot change the world, we can certainly accept acceptance within our own hearts."

Drawing on the Humanity Inherent Within All of Us

It is the ever-challenging job of the helper to draw on this sacred strength, the humanity inherent within all of us, to enter a person's frame of reference and to understand before attempting to walk the path of healing with that person. In the traditional teachings a helper plays a very important role in every aspect of the American Indian and Alaska Native life.

One of the first teachings learned as a very young child is to be a helper, to help Grandmother in order to learn respect for the elders, or to be a helper to learn skills of planting, then to learn the skills of hunting as you grow older. The helper is also the person who guides and protects you as you develop to a point when you yourself will be a helper. This development is emphasized in the Full Circle gatherings, where helpers are utilized in every activity and exercise, teaching as participants evolve in learning the Medicine-way of life.

We must not forget that we all have this sacred power and that we are all a part of one another. Finally, we must keep in mind that no one is better equipped to change someone than that someone. Patience and respect are invaluable tools for any form of healing. The Cherokee elders have taught us that there is healing in calmness and strength in humility.

The lesson of perspective is utterly crucial to working with anyone who is different from ourselves. It is always important to remember that no two people have exactly the same experiences; we are all different, and in a sense, possess what could be considered a "personal culture" of our own. Yet our humanity lends us common ground for experiencing and for relating to one another. Ultimately, in seeking wellness, we must not forget to relate to ourselves, always keeping in touch with our inner experience. It is important for all cultures to resolve our difference and avoid the conflicts of indifference.

The Leader and the Helper: Attaining Balance

Leaders and Helpers: Learning Through Our Differences and Our SimilaritiesAmerican Indians use the terms leader and helper somewhat differently than other cultures do today. The traditional leader was someone with strong spiritual abilities who would encourage others to be involved and participate in being a helper to others. The leader was often the teacher or the Medicine Man. The leader may be a mental, physical, natural, or spiritual healer who provides some form of guidance to the group. The most important qualification for this role is that the person be a natural leader.

What is a leader, anyway? Is a leader not someone who either makes choices or helps in the making of choices? If so, then we are all leaders in our own lives. The intrinsic value of "leadership" is valued over any specific title or role.

A leader may be a healer or one who is in need of self-healing. In order to help others we must be able and willing to help ourselves. In order to help others take a look at themselves, we must be willing to look at ourselves. Ultimately we must not ask others to do what we ourselves would not be willing to do, and even then we must do so with respect and patience. In a traditional sense, openness is the key to an awareness of oneself within the greater Universal Circle.

The leader often becomes a "helper" in the process of healing or finding a path to wellness through balance and harmony. Attaining balance becomes the process of "grounding," and achieving harmony becomes the process of bonding with all things around us in our environment. Therefore, everything becomes a helper to us. This includes plants, animals, minerals, birds, Mother Earth, trees, rocks, and everything having a purpose in our lives. Nothing should be overlooked. In this way, one can see why it was important for Indians to give thanks to the Great One for everything.

The leader could also be a support person, such as a trusted elder or a friend, until the individual becomes a leader in her or his own vision; then that elder or friend becomes the leader. The traditional stories told by the Indian elders and teachers usually guide rather than direct answers to situations.

Calm Resolve and Guidance Can Bring About Change

As community groups come together to solve problems for the benefit of the community, traditional circle gatherings would be used for "healing of the towns and state of affairs," as an elder put it. Today it is not always the case that our most humble and caring people are our leaders. It is more likely that the most vocal and affluent are our leaders.

Full Circle teaches us to be patient when we have something to say and to say something out of patience, rather than being driven to accomplish something. Calm resolve and guidance by helpers of various aspects of our community can bring about change in subtle ways, as long as we can leave out the egos and emotional issues. The leaders help to "work through those emotions and act within the laws of the tribe to bring about resolve. We start by thanking the Great One, calling in our ancestors for guidance, and sharing the pipe of peace symbolically while we bring in the helpers to work together for the good of all," says an elder. In that sense, there is healing.

Now it is your time to enter the circle and to seek your own path to wellness as a leader, helper, and healer of humankind and Mother Earth.

©2002 by J.T.Garrett. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher
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Bear and Company www.InnerTraditions.com

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The Cherokee Full Circle: A Practical Guide to Sacred Ceremonies and Traditions by J.T. Garrett and Michael Tlanusta Garrett.The Cherokee Full Circle: A Practical Guide to Sacred Ceremonies and Traditions
by J.T. Garrett and Michael Tlanusta Garrett.

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About the Authors

Michael GarrettMichaelJ.T. GarrettJ.T.J.T Garrett, Ed.D is a member of the Eastern band of the Cherokee from North Carolina. His son, Michael Garrett, Ph.D., is the author of Walking on the Wind and together they are the authors of Medicine of the Cherokee. As students and teachers of Indian Medicine, they draw on the ancient wisdom teachings of their Medicine Elders on the Cherokee Reservation in the Great Smoky Mountains. The Garretts have developed ways to present the "old teachings" to effectively guide people today to appreciate and understand living the "Medicine Way." Visit their website at http://www.cherokeefullcircle.com.