4/10/2017 06:26

Speaking First

Certain North American peoples, I've been told, established the custom of allowing the youngest members to speak first in council with the elders speaking last.

This is often attributed to the desire to encourage all to speak their minds without inhibition. The argument is that if the younger people hear the elders first, they will be swayed to repeat the same position rather than give their own. This is valid point; we all tend to echo the ideas we hear around us and this tendency is more pronounced when there is a lack of experience from which to judge the quality of our ideas.

Another reason for letting the younger people speak first is so that the elders can hear what is in the front of people's minds. Then the elders can respond to those concerns. From the point of view of the whole people, this is an efficient way bringing experience and wisdom to bear on current concerns.

Letting the young define the conversation also helps to keep the elders from appearing irrelevant. They are enabled (almost forced) to address the hopes and worries of the younger people, because those concerns are already before the council when the elders speak. On one side, this gives power to the young to set the agenda. On the other side, the experience of the elders is more likely to be heard when it is framed to fit what is seen to be happening at the moment.

Not often mentioned is that the third point helps to maintain the stature of the elders. This takes us to the fourth point: It is always easier to improve a statement of an idea than to come up with one. It is wise to let someone else say what you are going to say before you say it. Most often, the other person will fumble a bit and you can restate the point in a way which is more clear, more succinct, more precise. More wise, in other words.

But if it happens that someone who speaks ahead of you is so skilled that you cannot rephrase the thought in a better way, then you can repeat and affirm their statement. Doing so not only reinforces what you want to say but also makes you magnanimous. More wise again.

So in actual reality this tradition of the native nations benefits the old as much as the young and makes it easier for all the ages to help the whole people.

For myself, I like best how the strategy maintain the status of the elders. Because, you know, that's who I am now.