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Are We Raising a Generation of Inept Interpersonal Communicators?

IndianWomenLogoInterpersonal communication aka face-to-face contact is quickly being replaced by all forms of social media contact, but the fact is that it is not the same. People are opting to text, Tweet, Facebook, instant message, email, blog or any other option rather than face-to-face interaction. Some say it’s simply because it’s convenient and so much quicker. The truth is; it’s a cop-out for when you really don’t want to hear ALL that the other person has to say. In our minds, we have no time for real communication. People of our society are choosing to become passersby or observers only of the many needs of our world with no real ties or commitment to anyone for anything. We mistakenly believe this lack of interaction will lessen our stress because we don’t have to deal with the problems of other people. Actually, even the historically sacred “family meal time” is now competing with smart phones, lap tops, notepads and other electronics; in addition to videos games and television from prior generations. Where will this all end?

IndianWomenblogpic3On Friday, September 19, 2014, a group of concerned American Indian Women held the 8th Annual Conference for American Indian Women of Proud Nations at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. The theme of the conference was “Intergenerational Conversations: Sharing Our Stories to Encourage Healing”. The 2014 conference featured sessions on the Jim Crow South, Historical Trauma and The Waccamaw Siouan Women’s Talking Circle, which featured outcomes from recent community dialogue in the Waccamaw Siouan community. Dr. Mary Ann Jacobs and several UNC Pembroke students presented a session on the Jim Crow South. Committee members believed this year’s conference focused on building bridges between generations. Dr. Mary Ann Jacobs, who serves on the conference planning committee stated, “In years past, some of our younger participants said at the conference, they never had an opportunity to hear about the Jim Crow experience of their elders. That time frame had a dramatic effect on Native communities throughout the southeast. This year, we began a process to share with younger participants about those troubling years as well as the lessons learned by our elders.”

IndianWomenblogpic1Two types of Native communication exercises were successfully demonstrated; a fishbowl and a talking circle. Each is useful in different ways. Fishbowling information is useful to share information and perspectives of members of one group with those of another. The instructions below will assist in your construction of a fishbowling exercise.

  • Step1: When all groups have concluded their research or read a selected article they are ready to share their findings. This can be done by using a fishbowl exercise, with one group forming an ‘inner circle’ where they discuss their findings with each other, while another forms an ‘outer circle’, with their backs towards the inner circle, and listens and records the discussions of the first group. The rule is that those in the outer circle can only listen, and cannot contribute to the discussion in the inner circle.
  • Step 2: When the inner circle discussions have ended, the groups swap, so that the inner circle becomes the outer, and vice versa. Repeat steps 1 and 2 until all groups have heard from one another.

IndianWomenblogpic2Talking, sharing and healing circles are useful when the topic under consideration has no right or wrong answer, or when people need to share feelings. Moral or ethical issues can often be dealt with in this way without offending anyone. The purpose of talking circles is to create a safe environment for people to share their point of view and experiences with others. This process helps people gain a sense of trust in each other. They come to believe that what they say will be listened to and accepted without criticism. They also gain an appreciation for points of view other than their own. During the circle time, people are free to respond however they want as long as they follow these guidelines. All comments should be addressed directly to the question or issue, not to comments that another participant has made. Both negative and positive comments about what anyone else in the circle says should be avoided. Just say what you want to say in a positive manner. Speak from the heart. Click here for more information on the Guidelines for Talking, Healing, and Sharing Circles and Principles of Consultation.

Overall this was an inspiring and affirming conference that facilitated intergenerational transfer of Native ways from Lumbee elders and knowledge to younger generations in a very real and unique way. I guess, what is glaringly apparent is that healing tends to happen when there is true and meaningful dialogue that is delivered via face-to-face or interpersonal communication. Let’s not give up on any real genuine chances of healing that still remain for humanity! We need all the healing we can muster!

Veronica Kay Freeman (Coharie and Waccamaw Siouan) is the Co-Chair of the Conference for American Indian Women of Proud Nations Planning Committee, the Community Intervention Supervisor for the Eckerd Youth Alternatives, Inc., and a member of the Every Woman Southeast Coalition Leadership Team

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