Volume 7 Number 3 Fall 1998
foundations of self-esteem
|Traditional Western (Dominator) values|
1. Belonging is the organizing principle in Partnership cultures. Significance is assured by belonging, whereas in Dominator cultures one gains significance by standing out from the others, as seen in the hyperindividualalism of U.S. society today.
2. Mastery measures competence by an individual's progress relative to past performance rather than in comparison to others. The achievements of all are celebrated. In Dominator cultures, "winners" show competence by beating "losers."
3. Independence is the only principle that allows all persons to exert power over their lives. In Dominator systems, only a few can occupy coveted positions of power; the majority are obliged to submit.
4. Generosity is the measure of virtue in Partnership cultures, where relationships are more important than possessions. In the Dominator culture, the "good life" is reflected in the accumulation of materialistic goods.
After we first presented this model in Washington, a participant in our session approached us privately to ask, with some shyness, whether perhaps these were not just Indian values but also universal values underlying most ethical systems, such as those seen in first-century Christian communities. We subsequently discovered the writings of philosopher Mortimer Adler, who contended that a common error of many modern thinkers is to assume that all values are relative. Certainly, many values are determined by our cultural or individual preferences, but early philosophers never doubted there were some universal values, such as truth and courage. To Adler, the test of an absolute value was that it met a universal human need (1985). In fact, developmental psychologists have found universal human patterns of attachment, achievement, autonomy, and altruism that correspond to the principles of the Circle of Courage.
As we begin this series on the Circle of Courage, it seems appropriate to share with our readers something about the person who created the art. Since his early 20s, George Blue Bird has been incarcerated in a South Dakota state penitentiary. While intoxicated, he committed a violent homicide that he does not remember. He entered a plea bargain for manslaughter and was sentenced to life in prisonment. George Blue Bird is active in working with younger Native inmates through cultural programs, and he continues his work as an artist within the prison, hoping to gain his release some day and return to his family.
George Blue Bird had two small children when he entered prison 15 years ago. The youngest was an infant son named White Buffalo. This boy has never seen his father outside of a prison visiting room. When George drew the Circle of Courage art for the principle of Belonging (as reproduced on the cover of this journal), he pictured a father dancing with a 6-year-old boy. Significantly, White Buffalo was 6 at the time. Recently, George asked us if we would meet with his son, who is now 15 and was visiting from his home in another state. We gave the youth a framed print of his father's art and pointed out that he was the boy dancing with his father in the painting.
In this materialistic, fast-paced culture, many children have broken circles, and the fault line usually starts with damaged relationships. Having no bonds to significant adults, they chase counterfeit belongings through gangs, cults, and promiscuous relationships. Some are so alienated that they have abandoned the pursuit of human attachment. Guarded, lonely, and distrustful, they live in despair or strike out in rage. Families, schools, and youth organizations are being challenged to form new "tribes" for all of our children so there will be no "psychological orphans."
Martin Brokenleg, EdD, (left, photographed here with Lee Loynes and Larry Brendtro in South Africa in 1992) is a professor of Native American Studies at Augustana College and dean of the Black Hills Seminars, a training institute for professionals serving youth at risk. He is a graduate of the Episcopal Divinity School at Cambridge and has worked as a therapist with children and youth.
The anthor of many publications, he speaks internationally and currently serves as a host for the Public Television program Buffalo Nation Journal. Dr. Brokenleg was instrumental in establishing the George Blue Bird defense fund, which is supported by charitable donations and by the sale of Circle of Courage prints.
For information or to communicate with Dr. Brokenleg, contact Reclaiming Youth, PO Box 57, Lennox, SD 57039.
Adler. M. (1985). Ten philosophical mistakes. New York: Macmillan.
Brendtro, L., Brokenleg, M., & Van Bockern, S. (1990). Reclaiming youth at risk: Our hope for the future. Bloomington, IN: National Educational Service.
Coopersmith, S. (1967). The antecedents of self-esteem. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman.
Deloria, E. C. (1943). Speaking of Indians. New York: Friendship Press.
Eisler, R. (1987). The chalice and the blade. New York: HarperCollins.
Erikson, E. (1950). Childhood and society. New York: Norton.
Standing Bear, L. (1933). Land of the spotted eagle, New York: Houghton-Mifflin.